Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Word Nerd”

Word Nerd: People


Terms of endearment, character labels, designations of gathering are all part of this month’s offering.

avuncular: acting like an uncle, as in being kind, patient, generous, etc., especially to younger people. Is there an auntie version? avauntcular?

macushla: darling

this would have been handy back in February

bibliophile: a bookseller, especially a dealer in rare or used books.

vicinage: a particular neighborhood or district, or the people belonging to it.

nebbish: a pitifully ineffectual, luckless, and timid person.

kith: acquaintances, friends, neighbors, or the like; persons living in the same general locality and forming a more or less cohesive group.

contumacious: stubbornly perverse or rebellious; willfully and obstinately disobedient.

Questions to ponder:

Is is possible to be a nebbish kith?

Have you known a contumacious bibliophile?

Are there any avuncular folk in your speed dial?

Word Nerd: Nouns of Distinction


As I remind my students, a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Here is a list of distinctive nouns.

haphephobia: an extreme fear or dislike of touching or being touched.

skerrick: a small piece or quantity; a bit.

tohubohu: chaos; disorder; confusion.

hugger-mugger: secrecy; reticence.

chiaroscuro: the treatment of light and shade in drawing and painting.

manavelins: miscellaneous scraps or small items, especially of food or gear.

exonumia: items, as tokens or medals, that resemble money but are not intended to circulate as money.

sumpsimus: adherence to or persistence in using a strictly correct term, holding to a precise practice, etc., as a rejection of an erroneous but more common form.

hydra: a persistent or many-sided problem that presents new obstacles as soon as one aspect is solved.

propinquity: nearness in place; proximity.

vibrissa: one of the stiff, bristly hairs growing about the mouth of certain animals, as a whisker of a cat.

concatenation: a series of interconnected or interdependent things or events.

foible: a minor weakness or failing of character; slight flaw or defect.

darg: a day’s work. Interesting that darg and darg share the same letters.

lustrum: a period of five years.

I need to find a way to wendle my appreciation for these fantabulous nouns in my sentences. It might become a foible in my darg to do so, give or take a lustrum.

And the bonus noun:

Do fribblers dribble away time and energy?

Word Nerd: October


October is noticing the changes in nature. Have you noticed any of these?

paraselene: a bright moonlike spot on a lunar halo; a mock moon

gloaming: twilight; dusk

cordate: heart-shaped

brumal: wintry

matutinal: pertaining to or occurring in the morning; early in the day

procellous: stormy, as the sea

plashy: marshy; wet

lucida: the brightest star in a constellation

Photo by u4e00 u5f90 on Pexels.com

Word Nerd: September


Ah, September. The slow farewell to summer as school begins and the beaches close. This batch of words focuses on learning as the transition from beach bags to school bags takes place.

  1. willyard: obstinate; willful (not all children, or adults, are joyful about attending classes)
  2. obsteperous: noisy, clamorous, or boisterous (have you ever entered a kindergarten class on the first day?)
  3. crankle: to bend; turn; crinkle (lots of paper, paperclips, pens and such to crankle in fall)
  4. pother: a heated discussion, debate, or argument; fuss; to do (let’s hope these are avoided)
  5. hebetude: the state of being dull; lethargy (this might be the case after a couple of months of vacation)
  6. antediluvian: very old, old-fashioned or out of date; antiquated (some students might feel this way about their teachers)
  7. tirrivee: a tantrum (students and teachers might throw one or two of these depending on how classes go)
  8. swivet: a state of nervous excitement, hast, or anxiety; flutter (applies to both students and teachers on the first day of school)
  9. faineant: idle; indolent (these moments do happen-to teachers as well)
  10. amity: friendship; peaceful harmony (getting along is a key goal)

If not attending school, do any of the above work for you in your situation?

Word Nerd Confessions: Random Exploration


Instead of a theme-oriented post I thought I pull out at random what I have collected over the last couple of months. Hope you find a few you can use.

  1. furphy: a false report; rumor

2. mellifluous: flowing with honey; sweetened with or as if with honey

3. yare: quick; agile; lively

4. desideraturm: something wanted or needed

5. supercilious: haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or a facial expression

6. mal du pays: homesickness

7. perfervid: very fervent; extremely ardent; impassioned

8. garboil: confusion

9. lagniappe: a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure; bonus

10. friable: easily crumbled or reduced to powder; crumbly

Ten words that can zip up the most mundane of conversations. Think of the possibilities.

“He seemed to enjoy the lagniappe he received for spending so much money in the store.”

Word Nerd: November


This month is a mixture of archaic and contemporary. How do some of the cool words of the past slip out of usage?

  1. iwis: certainly (obsolete)

2. crepuscular: of, relating to, or resembling twilight; dim; indistinct.

3. mizzle: to rain in fine drops; drizzle; mist (I am so finding a way to use this in a story)

4. sagacious: having or showing great mental discernment; wisdom (I know this one, but haven’t yet found a way to insert it into any conversation)

5. gree: the prize for victory

6. zephyr: a gentle, mild breeze (so adore this word)

7. tantivy: to ride at full gallop

8. quiddity: the essence of something; its essential nature

9. soniferous: making or producing sound

10. chunter: to mutter

11. cavil: to raise trivial objections

12. hypethral: open roof (like the Globe theater!)

13. stownlins: secretly; stealthily

13. lunker: something unusually large for its kind

14. hypermnesia: having an unusually precise memory

15. cleek: to grab something unexpectedly; snatch

Such a preponderance of dictional expression! Which cleeked your fancy?

Word Nerd Confessions: Wander Words


I do so enjoy picking up new words from a book I’m reading. Usually I garner a couple, now and then a handful. Sometimes though, a book will offer a plethora of new diction and I am in linguaphile bliss. Virgil Wander provides an amazing array of words. It’s not so much the actual word Leif Enger interjects, it’s how he applies it that makes the usage so noticeable and appealing.

Let’s begin…

Did you know there is a word for the sound of the wind flowing through trees or through the sea? I didn’t either. It’s known as soughing.

If something is rotten and falling apart, rightly call it out by saying its manky.

Why call it a bat when pipistrelle is more fitting.

As for contributing to the possible delinquent tendencies of minors, especially males, save them from future recidivism by taking away temptations.

Pick up a twin-coil guitar pick if you desire, although utilizing a humbucker sounds much more fun.

Once I realized I was on to a vein of golden lexicon, I began saving sentences and contemplating and translating into my own bag of definitions and choices.

“They had some devious sentience.” My choice would be sense of being or awareness.

“...wrote exegetical papers. Explaining something sometimes is not enough.

I then thought, “sentences and page number”:

“I won’t deny my vocal elan took a hit (p. 122). I would have said enthusiasm.

..left out the rumors of his expiry (p.130) Death is simply too bland.

…a fluminate ache” (p.164) Saying it’s a sudden, intense pain isn’t enough sometimes.

The sheriff is not laconic or severe” (p.136) Here I would have said the sheriff was a touch recalcitrant, but sheriffs of few words are bordering on cliche.

she had passerine eyes” (p.168 ) Is that a compliment or an astute observation if a girl has bird-like eyes? Is she a hawk, a sparrow, a chickadee? I need to take a look for myself.

“…he attenuated his budget” (p. 172) Why lessen the budget when attenuating it sounds more dire?

This word: repatriate*, threw me. This is where a prisoner of war, a refugee, or in some cases, artwork (such as 170 films ranging from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Rock Hudson’s Pretty Maids All in a Row) are returned to the point of origin. Here’s the really interesting part–this is a bona fide job. What would it be like to roll up to someone’s house and say, “Hi, I’m here to repatriate that Van Gogh that you thought you purchased from a legitimate source, only to find out it was stolen from a museum? *One of they key elements of the plot was how Virgil inherited a stash of films when he purchased the movie theater. Their legal status created some angst on Virgil’s behalf. As a result, it might require an act of conscience to repatriate the films.

Instead of saying a building was similar in style, Enger says it’s an iteration (p.191)

Why saying the items were falling apart when putrescent is so much more exact? (p.191)

As for the bad guy in Enger’s story, he isn’t merely a villian, he’s “inveterate predator” (p. 219)

When throwing a wild studio fim party, drunken revel comes to mind, but that seems rather base, even banal–Enger describes these parties as bacchanalia (p. 222)

I favor the word brio, since it is a deeper, more expressive descriptive of enthusiasm. Enger interjects it to describe a particular film (p.223)

Remember that villian? He is also described as being avaricious (p.239).Being a bad guy is one thing, being a greedy bad guy is quite a different category of bad.

No one wants to be defined as a lout, especially not a raffish lout (p.423).

Obfuscation is always a better choice than plain old confusion (p.249).

I’ve not looked into the eyes of a sturgeon lately, or ever, for that matter. It would be of great consternation if the eyes of said sturgeon were insouciant (p.189). How can a fish have carefree eyes? Actually, if you read the book and make some decisive connections between the villain and the sturgeon, Enger knew that insouciant was appropriate.

Reading Virgil Wander kept me scampering between looking up the words, translating connotative and denotative meaning, and outright marveling over the usage. The only other book in which I do the dictionary shuffle is Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

What is most admirable about Virgil Wander and his first person vernacular narrative is that he complains how he can’t always find the right word since his accident, when he drove his car into the lake and sustained a few injuries including head trauma. I wonder what his lexicon abilities were prior to his concussion? As much as I love words I am fine staying on this side of the guard rail and the lake and will not be seeking water immersion to improve my vocabulary.

If you haven’t discovered Virgil Wander by Leif Enger, I hope my review and Word Nerds post have convinced you how it is a need to read selection.

Watch out for insouciant sturgeon, by the way.

Word Nerd Confessions: February


Having just enjoyed a lovely Valentine’s Day weekend (actually it was a gotta-get-outta-the-snow escape) I am relaxed and ready with a new outlook that should see me through the rest of winter. Longer days and bluer skies make a difference in maintaining a cheerful outlook. 

As a celebrant of fresher weather ahead, I’ve pulled some words out of storage that produced a bit a happy when first discovered. 

1. kvell: to be extraordinarily pleased; especially to be bursting with pride, as over one’s family.

2. persiflage: light bantering talk or writing.

3. rax: to stretch oneself, as after napping [nite: it took four times for auto-check that “rax” is the word I actually wanted, not “fax” or even “dad”]

4. prevenance: special care in anticipating or catering to the needs and pleasures of others.

5. gallimaufry: a hodgepodge;  humble;confused medley.

6. snarf: to eat quickly and voraciously [I didn’t realize this is a legitimate word–it’s been a part of my lexicon ever so long].

7. deipnosophist: a person who is an adept conversationalist at a meal.

8. oneiric: of or relating to dreams.

9. trangam: an odd gadget; trinket.

10. flaneur: idler; dawdler; loafer [thus definition doesn’t describe the full concept–go here to discover what a flaneur is all about]. 

Word Nerd Confessions: October


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I might have mentioned it before that my heritage harkens back to the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Since that discovery I have grown more aware of all that is Scottish. This month I favor words that have Scottish roots. I might have to dedicate a post to famous Scots. I do enjoy listening to David Tennant and his broguish wit.

Who has the knack for Scottish wit and bravado? The Doctor, of course.

grumphie: a pig

hooly: gently

sennachie: a storyteller

blellum: an indiscreet talker

atweel: surely

shavie: a trick or a prank

I’ve come across other Scottish words in my readings of authors such as D.E. Stevenson and Allan MacKinnon that leave me puzzled to the point of setting my book down and searching out its meaning.

One of the words that stumped me was “ken.” Sentences like, “I ken your meaning,” really threw me. Context sleuthing pointed me towards understanding, but I finally looked it up and got this from dictionary. com:

verb (used with object),  kenned or kent, ken·ning.

Chiefly Scot.

  1. to know, have knowledge of or about, or be acquainted with (a person or thing).
  2. to understand or perceive (an idea or situation).

Scots Law. to acknowledge as heir; recognize by a judicial act.Archaic. to see; descry; recognize.

To “ken” something means to have a deeper understanding that just a mere acknowledgement. It’s one of those words that doesn’t translate well out of its cultural context–I ken that some words do better in their home language.

What Scottish words have you come across? Better yet, which of the above is one you are adopting? I’m leaning towards grumphie, as I do enjoy Guinea pigs. Then again, tossing out hooly at the right instance could be satisfying.

Word Nerd Confessions: January


I really like the time around New Year’s. Turning the calendar page, fresh start, anticipating what’s ahead, knowing that the midpoint of the school year has arrived and I’m ready to return for second semester.

It’s also a time I feel the need to tidy up: closets, projects, pantry, and my email gets a sound once over. This month’s feature of Word Nerd gets an extra dose of cleaning up. Some of these words have been lingering in the queue for over two years. Time to dust them off and send them out in the bright new year of 2019.

*This became the word one year in my AP Lit class. It found its way merrily into many an essay.

*I do so like this one. However, I feel a bit snooty when I insert it in a sentence.

*A personal favorite. I do so cringe when people say “a small, little”–it’s small or little. And don’t say “very unique” around me either. Yes, real estate blurbs are the worst offenders.

*footle and gleek must be pals

*As a child I remember a comic strip called “The Katzenjammer Kid’s”–they were naughty little trouble makers. Ah, they obviously caused their parents distress.

This word is supposedly obsolete, yet I think it could catch on once again. Bumper sticker stuff: Experience Esperance.

Well, my word closet is a bit less crowded. I hope you picked up a couple or a few new words to carry you into the new year.

Any favorites from the list? As for the usual challenge of creating a sentence with all the words (20!)? Only if you are up for it.

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