macaqueRebarbative is a borrowing from French. I’ve decided to add it to my vocabulary because one can never have too many synonyms for ‘objectionable’, ‘repellent’ or ‘fearsome’.

The French word rébarbatif means ‘repellent’ or ‘disagreeable’, and it is derived from the Middle French word rebarber. Rebarber means ‘to oppose’ and itself derives from the Old French words re (meaning ‘back’ or ‘again’) and barbe (meaning ‘beard’). It is therefore thought to have the literal meaning of ‘to stand beard to beard against’.

The OED’s first listed usage is from 1892 but I like this example:

“Still, everyone appeared to be extremely nice, except that that Dr. Greenfield man was a trifle rebarbative. (This was a word which Toby had recently learnt at school and could not now conceive of doing without.)”

– Iris Murdoch, The Bell, 1958






This week the world marked 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl. He has been one of my favourite authors since I was very young, and I would highly recommend his autobiographies if you haven’t yet read them.

cookiesThis week’s interesting word is one that is famously associated with Dahl. And it has relevance for me because it is my birthday soon and my sister always treats me to an afternoon tea that can only be described as scrumdiddlyumptious.

Scrumdiddlyumptious means ‘delicious’ or ‘extremely tasty’. It can also be used to describe an attractive person.

I had always assumed that scrumdiddlyumptious was coined by Dahl, but it actually originated as US slang in the 1940s. It is a humorous alteration of scrumptious (of which there were many but not all made it into widespread usage). The OED has the first recorded usage as in 1942, but this is the usage most Roald Dahl fans will be familiar with:

“Every human bean is diddly and different. Some is scrumdiddlyumptious and some is uckyslush.”

– Roald Dahl, The BFG, 1982

Roald Dahl was a magnificent human bean, and his books helped to shape who I am today. I will always delight in reading his stories, and I know I am not alone in that.


  • Oxford Dictionaries Online
  • Oxford English Dictionary Online
  • Shutterstock (image)


LeeksThis week’s interesting word is porraceous. I will buy an imaginary drink for anyone who knows what it means without looking it up – and a bonus imaginary packet of crisps if you have used it in everyday conversation.

Porraceous means ‘resembling a leek’. It is typically used to mean that something is leek-green in colour. (In many cases the something is vomit.)

It is early 17th century in origin, and stems from the Latin word porrāceus (itself from porrum meaning ‘leek’ and āceus meaning ‘of the nature of’).

“Martians, according to general sci-fi ethnobotany, are always small, hydrocephalic, intelligent, and seem a sort of porraceous green.”

– Alexander Theroux, The Secondary Colors, 1996

Isn’t the English language brilliant?


  • Oxford Dictionaries Online
  • Oxford English Dictionary Online



The living embodiment of obstreperousness?

Obstreperous is one of my mum’s favourite words (I am presuming this because of the frequency with which she uses it). She often, however, uses the humorous form obstropolous which most sources list as a regional variation, but its use seems fairly widespread.

Obstreperous means noisy, difficult to control, unruly, bad-tempered or argumentative. (It is often suggested that stroppy came into usage as a slightly altered abbreviation of obstreperous.)

It was first used in the late 16th century and stems from the Latin word obstreperus ‘clamorous’ which is itself from obstrepere ‘to make a noise against’ or ‘oppose noisily’.

You can use obstreperously as an adverb and obstreperousness as a noun.

“Thou abominable obstreperous Scoundrel, why dost thou clamour at us, that do thee no wrong?”

– Plutus: or, The world’s idol. A comedy, translated by Lewis Theobald, 1715



RocksThis week’s interesting word is anfractuous. It is rare to see it in use, but I think it has a good sound and is fairly evocative.

Anfractuous means winding, sinuous, circuitous or spiral. It can also mean rugged or craggy and fractious or irritable.

Its origin is thought to be late 16th century, from the Latin word anfractus which means ‘a bending’. The meaning of rugged or craggy stems from the French word anfractueux.

“Paint me the bold anfractuous rocks Faced by the snarled and yelping seas.”

– T. S. Eliot, Ara vos prec, 1920


  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online
  • Oxford Dictionaries Online


This week’s interesting word is said to have been coined by J.R.R. Tolkien, one of my favourite authors.

Woods and fieldsA eucatastrophe is a sudden, favourable resolution of events – or a happy ending. Tolkien described it as “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears” (1944). There is some debate over the relationship between eucatastrophe and deus ex machina, but the eucatastrophe is a fundamentally optimistic narrative device.

Eucatastrophe was formed by combining eu (a Greek prefix meaning ‘good’) and catastrophe (a change that produces the conclusion of a dramatic work).


The Oxford English Dictionary (online)



It’s Wimbledon season at the moment so this week’s interesting word is tennis related. (I was lucky enough to go to Wimbledon this week – it was amazing!)

TennisA moonball is a high lob made when playing tennis. It is often recognisable as a stroke that causes the ball to arc high into the air, often out of camera shot, and slows the pace of the game.

Its origin is simply the combination of ‘moon’ and ‘ball’. The OED lists the first use of moonball as taking place in 1975.

“Inside, on the first Monday of Wimbledon, hopes were as high as a moonball, as green as the immaculate grass.”

– The Independent, 27 June 1995

Source: The Oxford English Dictionary (online)


I’m not going to pretend I am above using the occasional choice insult. Smellfungus is an old-fashioned term, but I quite like it.

A smellfungus is an overly critical person – someone who finds fault constantly or is seemingly discontented with everything. I imagine that a grumpy, miserable person of this sort would have a facial expression akin to that of smelling something bad.

Eiffel TowerThis week’s interesting word is unusual because etymologists know exactly when it was coined. Tobias Smollett published Travels through France and Italy in 1766; he was rather unpleasant to people he met on his travels and was seemingly unimpressed and contemptuous for most of the journey. His attitude was not well received by some of his peers.

Laurence Sterne, one of those peers, later wrote A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768) in which he created the character of Smelfungus, a satirical representation of Smollett:

“The learned Smelfungus travelled from Boulogne to Paris … but he set out with the spleen and jaundice, and every object he pass’d by was discoloured or distorted.”


The Oxford English Dictionary (online)


This week’s interesting word is probably familiar to film fans, but you can find a McGuffin in all sorts of narrative works.

DiamondA McGuffin (or MacGuffin) is an object, device or event that has only one true purpose: to set the plot in motion. The audience is usually initially told that the object or thing is extremely important, but the McGuffin does not often have any real importance as the plot develops. The McGuffin is the soon-to-be-stolen diamond or the missing USB drive that serves to start and drive the story.

The precise definition of a McGuffin is widely debated, but the origin is attributed to Alfred Hitchcock. The OED gives the first recorded usage as in 1939:

“In regard to the tune, we have a name in the studio, and we call it the ‘MacGuffin’. It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers. We just try to be a little more original.”

– Alfred Hitchcock, Lecture at Columbia University

Hitchcock suggests he took the surname MacGuffin from a humorous story involving a McGuffin-type incident. The choice of name is not thought to be related to the word guffin, meaning ‘a stupid or clumsy person’.


  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online


This week’s interesting word is a borrowing from Greek. A nycthemeron is a period of twenty-four hours – one day and one night.

It can also be spelt nychthemeron. It is a term that seems to be used predominantly in academic texts, but I think it would fit in nicely in works of a more fantastical nature.

The OED gives the earliest recorded usage as follows:

“Onely the shadowy Vale of the Night will be cast over them once in a Nycthemeron.”

– Henry More, Two choice and useful treatises. 1682

I have taken this explanation of the origin directly from Oxford Dictionaries Online because Greek language is not my speciality:

“From Hellenistic Greek νυχθήμερον period of a day and a night, use as noun of neuter singular of νυχθήμερος lasting for a day and a night from ancient Greek νυκτ-, νύξ night + ἡμέρα day.” (You can view the entry here.)

Day and night

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