Tag Archives: intellectual words

There’s a Word for That: Jouissance

atkins-bookshelf-wordsDefinition: intellectual or physical pleasure or enjoyment; sexual pleasure (e.g. orgasm)

Etymology: Formed from the French word jouir (meaning “enjoy”)

Related word: joie de vivre (joy of living)

Pronunciation: jwee SANS

Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist


My Favorite Words – Simon Winchester

atkins-bookshelf-wordsSimon Winchester is a British-born American journalist and author, recognized for his best-selling non-fiction books: The Professor and the Madman (1998), The Map that Changed the World (2001), The Meaning of Everything (2003), Krakatoa: The Day the Wold Exploded (2003), and A Crack in the Edge of the World (2005). Two of his most successful books, The Professor and the Madman and The Meaning of Everything, focus on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Naturally, Winchester has a deep respect for the OED, and of the English language itself. In the paperback edition of The Professor and the Madman, Winchester shares with his readers his favorite words out of the nearly 750,00 words defined by the OED. His selection of words were based on three criteria: first, he had to like them; second, they were “shamefully misunderstood”; and third “all can be used without the risk of sounding foolish or bombastic.” Readers will have to judge that third criterion by their own experience.

Philogyny: admiration of women (opposite of misogyny)

Tourbillion: a whirlwind or vortex; the mechanics of a watch

Sainfoin: a pink-flowered plant, of the legume family, native to Asia

Terbinth: a small Mediterranean tree, of the cashew family, that yields turpentine and tanning material

Loosestrife: plants with leafy stems and yellow or white flowers, of the primrose family

Pellucid: easily understood, transparently clear

Cacoethes: the uncontrollable urge to do something harmful

Chance-medley: a random occurrence or accident

Boustrophedon: a form of writing alternate lines that proceed in one direction, and reverse direction in the next (eg, from left to right, and then right to left)

Read related posts: Words Invented by Dickens
Rare Anatomy Words

For further reading: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester, Oxford (1998)


Abecedarian Insult

A multiple-word insult where the words are arranged in alphabetical order. As lexicographer Peter Bowler, author of The Superior Person’s Book of Words, notes, “Words are not only tools, they are weapons.” Bowler suggests this exquisite example: “‘You are an apogenous, bovaristic, coprolalial, dasypygal, excerebrose, facinorous, gnathonic, hircine, ithyphallic, jumentous, kyphotic, labrose, mephitic, napiform, oligophrenial, papuliferous, quisquilian, rebarbative, saponaceous, thersitical, unguinous, ventripotent, wlatsome, xylocephalous, yirning zoophyte.” Translated from highbrow English to regular English, the insult reads like this: “‘You are an impotent, conceited, obscene, hairy-buttocked, brainless, wicked, toadying, goatish, indecent, stable-smelling, hunchbacked, thick-lipped, stinking, turnip-shaped, feeble-minded, pimply, trashy, repellant, smarmy, foul-mouthed, greasy, gluttonous, loathsome, wooden-headed, whining, extremely low form of animal life.” Most likely the recipient of such an insult will be challenged to come up with a respectable comeback.

Read related post: Esprit de l’escalier

For further reading: The Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler, Godine Press (1982)


Raison d’être

Definition: Noun. The most important reason or purpose for someone’s existence.

Pronounced “ray-ZAHN-daytre”

Etymology: From the French, literally meaning “reason for existence”

For further reading: Les Bons Mots: How to Amaze Tout le Monde with Everyday French by Eugene Ehrlich, Henry Holt (1997).


There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier

Definition: Noun. The witty remark you wish you had made.

Pronounced: (es-PREED les-kah-LYAY)

Etymology: Literally, “staircase wit” from the French esprit meaning “wit” and escalier meaning “stairs.” The phrase was coined by philosopher and encyclopedist Denis Diderot in his essay, Paradoxe Sur le Comédien: “a sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument levelled against him [by statesman Jacques Necker], becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he reaches] the bottom of the stairs.” In other words, Diderot did not come up with a witty comeback until he reached the bottom of the stairs, too late to make an impact on the conversation.

Variants: l’esprit de l’escalier (lay SPREED les-kah-LYAY)
esprit d’escalier (es-PREED des-kah-LYAY)

There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist

For further reading: Les Bons Mots: How to Amaze Tout le Mond with Everyday French by Eugene Ehrlich, Henry Holt (1997). http://www.merriam-webster.com 


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