Odd words

We love words – that’s why we spend so much time writing and reading (and playing Scrabble!).  We have been looking out for some of the odder words that make up our beautiful language and as they are now gathering pace, we have decided to give them their own page.

Take a look at what we have uncovered so far and get in touch with your own odd words – the odder the better!


To enrich your experience of literature, it is always good fun to look into the indices of specialist books and wonder at the words set out for your edification: here’s some to think about – maybe you know some already but later I’ll fill in the meanings for those who are mystified!:





I Spy a little-used word!

Spy novels often use terms like ‘secret service’, under cover, ‘agent’ and so on. They don’t often use: ‘cabbalistic’, ‘Delphic’ ‘oracular’ or ‘abstruse’. Nor when reflecting on any failure of cunning by spies do they use ‘maladroit’ or ‘ingenuous’.

In fact to reflect this failure of effective spying we can turn to Lord Chesterfield who said: ‘Cunning is the dark sanctuary of incapacity.’

Spies need to be ‘artful’, ‘astute’, Machiavellian and trained in the art of ‘wiliness’. They need to use ‘narks’ and carefully ‘descry’. In the early days of organised spying, as opposed to being generally nosey, spies were told to ‘behold’.

It is when we consider ‘undercover’ that we run into trouble with English because ‘covert’ can mean ‘clandestine’ but also ‘coppice’ or ‘shrubbery’ – even a ‘thicket’! A ‘cover-up’ can also be expressed as ‘slather’, ‘swathe’ or ‘encrust’!

There are many words and phrases for ‘assassination’. ‘Terminate with extreme prejudice’, ‘strike off the list of the living’, cut the heads off the tall poppies’, ‘delete’, ‘blow away’, ‘hit’ are some of the euphemisms – and as Moliere says: Assassination is the quickest way.’

To keep our secrets secret we will use ‘encryption, ‘cryptography’ or codes and ciphers’. But a ‘cipher’ can also be a ‘nobody’, nonentity’, ‘logo’ or ‘device’ – and a code can be a ‘canon’ or ‘maxim’.

A double agent can also be a ‘binate’, ‘knavish’, vacillating’, or a ‘ringer’.

‘Cryptic’ comes from Late Latin – ‘krupticos’, and ‘agent’ comes from the Late Latin ‘agere’, = to do.

Finally we descry the spy and find out why that word is used: It comes from the Old High German ‘spehon’ or the Middle Dutch – ‘spien’.

And now to leave you with this enigmatic thought:
In Ireland they have a day called ‘Spy Wednesday’, which marks the Wednesday before Easter when Judas agreed to spy on Jesus for the Sanhedrin.
Despite this we need our spies – brave, clever and vital to national security.


There’s ‘manege’ – the art of training horses and riders;
‘malapert’ – saucy or impudent; ‘malanders’ – a disease of horses which occurs just behind the knee; ‘malacostracan’ – the sub-species containing lobsters, crabs and woodlice!
One really good one is ‘maffick’ – to celebrate extravagantly – so named after the Relief of Mafeking in 1900!
And finally for this interlude – ‘machicolate’ which elliptically means – to create machicolations on top of a wall’.

PS: For authors: ‘MacGuffin’ = a word coined by Sir Alfred Hitchcock, meaning any object or event in a book or film plot which serves as the impetus for the plot’ – so the MacGuffin for this entry is the letter ‘M’.


Here’s another couple of odd words – ‘wadmal’ and ‘waulked’.

Wadmal is a type of Viking cloth – undyed and ‘waulked’ is what happens to the cloth:
Waulking was a process by which the cloth was laid into a bath of urine and then ‘walked’ by feet (always fun) to press the urine into the cloth cause it to shrink and become ‘an impenetrable mat of felted fibres.’
As you probably know – people who did this seldom had athlete’s foot because urine seems to kill it.
Source: Viking Clothing by Thor Ewing

Now ‘waulking’ is used in the manufacture of Harris Tweed as you can read here:
If you scroll down to near the end of the article you can see the ‘waulking’ process described!

Today’s odd word is ‘thaumaterge’.
Jesus was a thaumaterge – a performer of miracles.
It’s from the Greek root: thaumatourgos = miracle-working
thence via Mediaeval Latin = thaumaturgus.
It permits ‘thaumatergy’ and ‘thaumatergic’.

There have been many miracle workers over the ages – claimed at least – like Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea and Saint Gerard Majella – and many who wished miracles could be reproduced to scientific standards.
Queen Elizabeth 1’s Dr Dee aspired to hermetic wonders and his life is truly amazing:

We all wish for miracles.
To read more about thaumatergy go here to the miracle of Wikipedia:

I love finding odd words that are hardly ever used. The other day we were discussing ‘guerdon’ and now I’ve found ‘encomiast’! So here goes:

Word: Encomiast
A person who speaks or write an ‘Encomium’ from the Greek – enkomiastes, further derived from enkomiazein and permitting:
encomiastical and

Encomiast gives rise to ‘Encomium’ – a formal expression of praise – a eulogy or panegyric.

What is an encomium – it is a set of words – a book or poem – in praise of someone – glorifying their deeds, justifying their behaviour and usually sponsored by them in the first place in a somewhat narcissistic or sycophantic way.

Used in this sense:
Encomium Emma Reginae – The Encomium of Queen Emma (daughter of Richard the First of Normandy and wife to Ethelred the Unready and King Canute) tells of her deeds and in which she makes herself ‘look good’.

In the thesaurus it gives rise to: Encomium: acclaim, acclamation, applause, compliment, eulogy, homage, laudation, panegyric, praise, tribute.

It would not dare to have an antonym!

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