Category Archives: Words

Funny Names of Real People

atkins bookshelf wordsIn his book, Bertha Venation, retired editor Larry Ashmead, who worked at Simon and Schuster and Doubleday, shares his entertaining collection of funny and strange names of real people. A collector of names is called an appellationist (a new word introduced by Bookshelf back in September 2016). Like fellow appellationist, John Train, Ashmead has always been fascinated by names. Below are some interesting names from the chapter entitled, “Did I hear that right? Say these names out loud and blush.” Some of these make you wonder: what were the parents thinking?:

Dick Byter

Anita Dick

Sheila Dikshit

Becky Fuchs

Dick Hartup

Barbara Fatt Heinie

Jay Heiny

Phat Ho

Jason Panty

Janet Woodcock

Phuc Yu

What funny real names have you come across?

Read related posts: What Do You Call A Collector of Names?
Why Do People Collect Things?
Words for Collectors
Words for Collectors 2
Origins of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 1
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 2
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 3
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 4

For further reading: Bertha Venation by Larry Ashmead

What is the Grossest Word in the English Language?

atkins bookshelf wordsThe English language, with more than a million words, has many euphonious (beautiful-sounding) words. The flip side of that coin, is that it also has a lot of ugly-sounding words. Of course, a sub-group of ugly-sounding words are ones that may not sound ugly, but evoke a really ugly visual, i.e., words that are simply gross. The logophiles at reached out to their readers to find out which words they thought were the grossest. Here is their list of the 15 words they thought were “so gross they’ll make you sick.” Not surprisingly, some of the grossest words are related to the most disgusting discharges from the human body. Ew!

diarrhea: an intestinal disorder characterized by abnormal frequency, fluidity, and velocity of fecal evacuations

feces: waste matter that is discharged from the bowels after food has been digested (in medical terms, stercus; in kid terms, poop)

fester: to form pus, and generate purulent matter; to cause ulceration in the flesh

feculent: full of dregs or fecal matter; foul, muddy, or turbid

fetid: having an offensive odor

maggot: soft-bodied legless larva, especially that of a fly, found in decaying matter

masticate: to chew

mucus: a viscous, lubricating mixture of electrolytes, epithelial cells, leukocytes, mucins, and water that is secreted by glands lining the esophageal, nasal, and other body cavities

ooze: to flow, percolate, or exude slowly, as through a small opening

phlegm: the thick mucus secreted in the respirator passages and discharged through the mouth

pimple: a small, usually inflammatory welling of the skin containing pus

scab: the incrustation that forms over a sore or wound during healing

seepage: to ooze gradually through a porous substance

smegma: a thick, cheese-like sebaceous secretion that collects beneath the female and male genitalia

vomit: to eject the contents of the stomach through the mouth

Read related posts: What is the Most Beautiful Sounding Word in English?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order

What is the Longest Word in English Language?
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Rare Anatomy Words
What Rhymes with Orange?

For further reading:

What is a False Friend?

atkins bookshelf wordsFalse friends are the worst. Just ask Holden Caulfield — he hated phonies with a passion. The Catcher in the Rye is littered with diatribes against phony friends and phonies in general. In linguistics, however, a false friend is something entirely different than a phony friend. The term “false friend” is a shortened version on the longer term “false friend of a translator” coined by two French translators, Jules Derocquigny and Maxime Koessler, in 1928. False friends (in French, faux amis) are words in two different languages that may sound or look familiar but differ significantly in meaning. This is not a case of “lost in translation” but rather “mangled in translation.” For example, in Dutch “die” means “that one”; in English it means “stop living.” Unlike a false friend in real life that can leave you distraught or annoyed, a linguistic false friend can cause you some embarrassment. For multinational companies that name their products unwittingly using a false friend, it creates an expensive marketing disaster (recall Chevrolet’s Nova — in Spanish it means “doesn’t go” — imagine, Chrysler developed a car that doesn’t go…). Here are some common false friends drawn from various languages:

French: bitepronounced “beet'” (penis)
English: beet (a herbaceous plant widely cultivated as a source of food)

French: cul – pronounced “cool” (butt or ass)
English: cool (excellent or at low temperature)

Spanish: embarazada (pregnant)
English: embarrassed (to feel awkward or ashamed)

French: envie (wish or desire)
English: envy (a feeling of discontented longing evoked by someone else’s possessions or situation)

French: fesse (buttock)
English: face (the front of a person’s head)

German: gift (poison)
English: gift (a present)

Swedish: kissa (to pee)
English: kiss (touch with lips as a sign of love)

Dutch: lul (penis)
English: lull (calm; send to sleep)

British English: nonce (slang for child molester)
American English: nonce (present moment; a word used only once)

Turkish: peach (bastard)
English: peach (a round fruit with juicy yellow flesh and downy skin; an attractive person)

Portuguese: peidei (I farted)
English: payday (a day when someone receives their wages)

French/Catalan: pet (fart)
English: pet (domestic or tamed animal kept for companionship)

Russian: preservativ (condom)
English: preservative (a substance used to preserve food)

Korean: seolsa (diarrhea)
English: salsa (a spicy tomato sauce)

British English: spaz (offensive term for disabled person)
American English: spaz (clumsy person)

Read related posts: Best Holden Caulfied Quotes About Phonies
Words Invented by Book Lovers

How Many Words in the English Language?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English?
What Rhymes with Orange?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations

For further reading:

Names of Things You Didn’t Know Had Names

atkins bookshelf wordsWhat makes the English language so amazingly fascinating is not the words you know — it’s the words you don’t know. In the vast restaurant of the English language, the most delicious words are the ones off the menu, the ones you didn’t even know existed. Those are the words that you truly savor and evoke the response, “Really, there’s actually a word for that?” And word lovers all over the world recognize that cherished moment — just a few seconds, really — when they take delight in the knowledge of an obscure word that very few people know. You know the look — a knowing smile comes over their face, revealing the satisfaction of acceptance into some elite club or secret society. Herewith, Bookshelf presents a list of rare but delightfully delicious morsels for the indulgence of logophiles everywhere:

accismus: when a person pretends to refuse something when they really want it (eg., “I have no room for this appetizing piece of chocolate cake.”)

apthong: the silent letters in words like “know” or “naught”

armsate: the hole in a shirt or jumper through which you put your hand and arm

borborygmus: stomach growling

brannock device: that funky-looking metal device that measures your feet

chanking: food that a person spit out

diastema: the gap between front teeth (famous gap-toothed actors include: Madonna, Woody Harrelson, Jack Black, Elijah Wood, Anna Paquin)

fillip: the technical term for snapping fingers

grawlix: a sequence of typographical symbols to represent a swear word (eg., “What the #*%&!? happened here?!)

griffonage: very bad, illegible handwriting

lalochezia: swearing to relieve pain or stress (used disproportionately by parents of teens)

lemniscate: the infinity symbol

mucophagy: eating the boogers that one picks from their nose (see rhinotillexis)

ophyron: the space between the eyebrows

popliteal: the hollow area behind the knee

rasceta: the creases  on the inside of the wrist

rhinotillexis: nose-picking

sillage: the faint smell of perfume of a person who passes by

tittle: the dot above the letter “i”

tragus: the small lump of flesh just before the ear canal

ucalegon: A neighbor whose house is on fire or has burned down

ullage: the empty space between liquid and the bottle top

What other obscure words should be added to this list?

Read related posts: Top Ten Insults Using Archaic Words
Words Invented by Book Lovers
How Many Words in the English Language?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English?
There’s a Word for That: Epeolatry

For further reading: Words by Paul Dickson
The Whatchamacallit: Those Everyday Objects You Just Can’t Name by Danny Danziger and Mark McCrum
There are Tittles in this Title by Mitchell Symons

Word Drops by Paul Anthony Jones

Top Ten Insults Using Archaic Words

atkins bookshelf wordsTo help people arm themselves against a sea of verbal slings and arrows in the digital world (people on social media can be so mean, as you know), the clever folks at have stepped back into time a century to resurrect archaic words (many that sound Shakespearean) that make excellent comebacks. Next time you feel insulted, toss one of these wonderfully-sounding insults their way. You will feel vindicated and best of all — they won’t know what hit them:

bedswerver: an adulterer

fopdoodle: a person of little significance

gnashnab: someone who just complains all the time

gobermouch: a person who likes to meddle in other people’s business

klazomaniac: someone who can only speak by shouting

scobblelotcher: someone who avoids hard work as if were their job

snoutband: a person who always interrupts a conversation to correct or contradict the person speaking

stampcrab: a clumsy person

whiffle-whaffler: a person who wastes lots of time

zounderkite: an idiot

Read related posts: Words Invented by Book Lovers
How Many Words in the English Language?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English?
There’s a Word for That: Epeolatry

For further reading:

Phrases and Idioms Related to Eggs

There are many phrases in English that use the literal and metaphorical concept of the egg. Everyone is familiar with the idiom “don’t put your eggs in one basket” — but don’t tell that to the editors of dictionaries (presumably all good eggs), who have literally put all their words into one dictionary. Eggsactly. Since you can’t make a list without turning some pages, here are some common and rare egg-related idioms phrases found by thumbing through the dictionary:


A bad egg: a bad or dishonest person

A curate’s egg: something that is partly good and bad

A good egg: an agreeable or pleasant person

As alike on eggs: synonym of “peas in a pod”; resembling one another

As sure as eggs is eggs (often shortened to “safe as eggs”): definitely

Better an egg today than a hen tomorrow: synonym of “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” It is better to have a sure thing now rather than the possibility of more later

Butter-and-egg man: a prosperous businessman from a small town; a farmer who spends money lavishly when visiting the big city

Chicken and egg: a situation in which it is difficult or impossible to say which of two things existed first and which caused the other one

Egg on one’s face: humiliation; appearing ridiculous or foolish

Nest egg: money saved for an emergency or retirement

To egg on: to encourage

To kill the goose that lays the golden egg: to destroy the reliable source of one’s income

To lay an egg: to fail horribly, especially in front of an audience

To put all one’s eggs in one basket: to risk everything on the success of a single venture

Walk on eggshells: to walk, speak, or act very cautiously

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs: one cannot accomplish something without adverse effects elsewhere

Read related posts: Words Related to Trump
Resume Euphemisms
What Rhymes with Orange?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations

For further reading:

Who is the Fastest Reader in the World?

atkins bookshelf triviaAlthough the average person reads about 200-250 words per minute with a comprehension rate of 70 to 80%, some of the top contestants at the World Championship Speed Reading Competition read five times that — 1,000 to 2,000 words per minute with a comprehension rate of 50% or higher. But Howard Stephen Berg, of Mckinney, Texas, leaves even those speed readers in the dust — he reads more than 25,000 words per minute! Since 1990, he has been recognized as the fastest reader in the world by Guinness World Records and his record remains unchallenged. To put this speed into perspective, let’s compare how long it takes the average reader and the world’s fastest reader to read some lengthy reference and literary masterpieces:

The entire Oxford English Dictionary (1989 edition): 20 volumes; 21,730 pages; 59 million words
Average reader: 205 days
Howard Berg: 1.6 days

The entire Encyclopedia Britannica (2002 printed edition): 32 volumes; 33,000 pages; 44 million words
Average reader: 153 days
Howard Berg: 1.2 days

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust: 7 volumes; 3,031 pages; 1,267,069 words
Average reader: 4.4 days
Howard Berg: 51 minutes

The entire Harry Potter series (U.S. edition): 7 volumes, 4,100 pages; 1,084,170 words
Average reader: 3.7 days
Howard Berg: 90 minutes

The King James Bible: 774,746 words
Average reader: 2.7 days
Howard Berg: 31 minutes

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: 1,440 pages; 561,093 words
Average reader: 2 days
Howard Berg: 37 minutes

Read related posts: What is the Longest Novel Ever Written?
How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?

How Many Pages Would it Take to Print Wikipedia?
How Many Pages Does it Take to Print the Entire Internet?

Wikipedia by the Numbers
How Many Articles on Wikipedia?

For further reading: Super Reading Secrets by Howard Stephen Berg (1992)

Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea, Perigee (2008).
The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs, Simon & Schuster (2005)

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