Tigerpapers

Pondering the palimpsest and panoply of the planet.

A Soupçon of My Favorite Lexemes

Open DictionaryOpen Culture, a fantastic culture and education website, recently published an article with a list of Bertrand Russell’s favorite words in English. A couple of the words are fairly common, such as wind and golden, but for the most part lists like these tend to be heavy on unusual Latinate or Greek-based terms. One of my first posts on this blog was a similar short list of favorite words, A Learner’s Lexical and Locutionary List. Here is its unsolicited sequel, in which I will nominate a score or more of some additional favorites, mostly unusual and obscure, hand-picked from my various readings over the years, from the million or so English locutions. They were chosen not completely at random but for some felicitous combination of their sound, spelling, sense, and significance. Excepting a handful of the first ones, which are Germanic in origin, they are all typically Latinate or Greek. It seems all writers tend to have their own preferred lexicons (the Open Culture article above links to a similar, even more recherché list by David Foster Wallace), and if so inclined, do not hesitate to comment or add your own suggestions.

Firstly, some general types of words that I love to encounter in any form

Collective animal nouns (someone should coin some of these for human groups):

a shoal of fish, a murder of crows, a pride of lions, a gaggle of geese, a parliament of owls, a tribe of monkeys, a crash of rhinos

Proper adjectives from names:

Shakespearean, Herculean, Tolstoyan, Orwellian, Borgesian, Mephistophelean, Rortyan

Old Germanic causative transitive verbs or adjectives prefixed with be-:

besmirch, bespatter, betwixt, bedraggle, bereft, bemused, besotted, bequeath, bewitch, bedevil, beguile, benighted

Now for the actual list:

cleave (and its participle cloven; maybe the only verb with two opposite meanings)

thwart

thralldom (these last two come from the Viking invasions)

blood (pure Old English)

hidebound

selfsame

purse-proud

flummoxed

multitudinous (obligatory Shakespeare coinage, without which lists of this type would be immaterial)

threnody (synonyms such as dirge, requiem, and elegy could also make this list, as could rhythmically related words such as prosody, monody, and remedy)

fructify

cyclopean

persiflage

turpitude

opsimath

sybarite

sinecure

cynosure

hecatomb

unctuous

demiurge

petrichor (“the scent of rain on dry earth”)

corybantic

perfidious

obsequious

sycophantic

lachrymose

legerdemain

redoubtable

indefatigable

obstreperous

concatenation

grandiloquent

concupiscence

valetudinarian

plenipotentiary

metempsychosis (which, as Borges writes, is not reserved for humankind alone)

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