I love words. I am a word nerd. (A werd?) Unfortunately, cornering a random coworker and eagerly blathering about the correct way to pluralize “platypus” isn’t the best way to make friends. Worse, many of my favorite words don’t have any real use in modern English, so I can’t justify including them in my books. It would take a real stretch of the imagination–and the reader’s patience–to cram “kinderfeindlichkeit” into casual dialogue.
Sometimes, however, you run into an obscure or weird word that deserves to be better-recognized. Usually these are words that fill a linguistic hole, identifying a concept or summing up a complex notion in a way others can’t. Sometimes they’re just plain fun to say.
Here, then, is my list of three amazing words that deserve to be used more. Two of them are useful, but one is just fun to say. But–perhaps most importantly for a word nerd–all three of them can be used to absolutely slaughter your opponents in Hangman.
After The God Collector, I’d be ashamed not to include an Egyptian word on this list. (Or rather, an Egyptian concept embodied in a Greek word. But “heri-tep a’a” doesn’t really roll off the tongue.) In ancient times, Upper and Lower Egypt were divided into forty-two sepatu provinces, each ruled by a governor we now refer to as a nomarch.
Technically, nomarchs were appointed officials, but whenever there was a period of social unrest–and ancient Egypt adored its periods of social unrest–nomarchs had an awkward tendency towards declaring themselves kings. The first few pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom actually spent serious time putting down their own nomarchs, who had taken advantage of the chaotic First Intermediate Period to hoard power and weren’t looking forward to giving it back.
So why is this a word we should use? Because nomarch is the perfect encapsulation of politician who is getting too big for his britches, a word modern America sorely needs. Think for five seconds, and you can think of a government official you think is trying to get all the power he can get his hands on. Five more seconds to imagine that government official getting smacked down by the person he’s trying to usurp, and you’ll see why we have to have this word.
Hangman factor: This is probably the weakest of the three words for a Hangman game, since its letters are all pretty common early guesses by the player. If you’re willing to play “nomarch,” though, you may be surprised: many will think “monarch,” and end up confused when the N and M turn up in the wrong spots.
This one is simple. It’s also the one that wouldn’t fill a linguistic gap; we already have it, it sums up what it is, and that’s that. It even has some current usage, albeit among astronomy enthusiasts and X-Files fans.
A syzygy is a conjunction of three or more celestial objects–not actually that rare, given the number of celestial objects out there. An argument could be made for bringing “syzygy” into use as a term for something that isn’t as weird or exotic as we think it is, and it’s true, that could be useful. But really? “Syzygy” is just fun to say. It’s a word that looks like drunken cat-typing, but it serves a purpose. A cool word for a cool idea.
Hangman factor: The exotic choice, and good for knocking out over-confident opponents quick and hard. The look on a player’s face when confronted with _Y_Y_Y is not one quickly forgotten.
Possibly my favorite word–and, incidentally, the hardest one to justify using in conversation. Alas. #writerproblems
In the days of the Byzantine Empire, “porphyrogenitus” was a title given to a royal child born after their father had become emperor. The meaning is something like “born in the purple,” IE, royal purple. (Byzantium was serious about its silks and dyes, and the rare purple was reserved for the imperial family.)
English has an equivalent phrase: “born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” referring to someone born with privilege. Interestingly, this phrase is almost never used in a positive or neutral manner; if someone is accused of having pre-natally manifested cutlery, they probably didn’t deserve said cutlery.
In my opinion, though, “porphyrogenitus” is (slightly) more concise and has a sharper edge of criticism. Not many people have real silver silverware these days, but we still refer to royal purple, and sarcasm means that the privileged and the tyrant–albeit the petty office kind–still get called “Your Majesty.” This is a word with real potential.
Hangman factor: For those of you who prefer your word games to be wars of attrition.