Old writingHave you ever wondered why the contraction of will not is won’t?

Do not becomes don’t, cannot becomes can’t, and shall not becomes shan’t. Won’t does not follow the same pattern.

That is because won’t is actually a contraction of woll not. Woll is an archaic form of will; many Germanic languages have or had a similar word with a similar meaning.

Won’t fought off competition from other forms including wonnot, woonnot and wo’nt to become the standard contraction we use today.

We may no longer use woll, but it is easy to see why English has retained won’t instead of using willn’t or even win’t.




Temerarious is a word that is only really at home in literary texts. It means ‘reckless’, ‘rash’ or ‘unreasonably adventurous’.

TigerIf you try to give a tiger a cuddle, you are being temerarious.

You may find in some historical texts that temerarious has been used to mean ‘haphazard’ or ‘happening at random’, but this usage is now obsolete.

The OED gives the first recorded usage as in 1532. But I think this is a good example of temerarious used well:

“The King was one of the first that entred [the breach], choosing rather to be thought temerarious then timorous.”

– John Speed, The history of Great Britaine under the conquests of ye Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans. 1611

The word comes from the Latin temerarius , where temere means ‘rashly’. (The word temerity, meaning ‘excessive confidence’ or ‘audacity’, also has its roots in temere.) The suffix -ous denotes ‘full of’ or ‘characterised by’. The noun is temerariousness.


  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online


The weather where I live has been lovely this week. It has inspired me to choose noonlight as this week’s interesting word.

SunlightWords such as daylight, twilight and moonlight are common, but noonlight is fairly rare.

Noonlight is the light of the sun at noon. It is usually the brightest and clearest light of the day.

Noonlight’s origins are simple (‘noon’ plus ‘light’). The OED gives its first use as in 1598, but this usage resonated when I looked out of my window today:

“Through the blue dazzling distance of noon-light

– James Montgomery, Bolehill Trees in The West Indies, and other poems. 1810


  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online


Popple has a number of meanings. It can be used to mean the poplar tree, cornfield weeds, or to make a constant popping sound.

RiverThe meaning I particularly like is ‘to flow in a tumbling or rippling manner’ or ‘to heave or bubble’ (both of water). A connected meaning is ‘to bob up and down on the surface of rippling water’.

It can also be used as a noun for ‘a rolling or rippling of water’ or ‘a choppy body of water’.

Popple is considered imitative – it reproduces the sound of the thing it is describing.

“The sound of waters dropping, poppling, splashing, trickling.”

– C. J. Cornish, The Naturalist on the Thames. 1902

It is thought to originate from the Middle Dutch word popelen, meaning ‘to murmur’ or ‘to mumble’. The OED also gives comparisons with the West Frisian word popelje, meaning ‘to throb’ or ‘to bubble up’, and the regional German word poppeln, meaning ‘to bubble’.

The earliest usage recorded by the OED was c1400. And it isn’t just used for descriptions of the natural world.

“His brains came poppling out like water.”

– Charles Cotton, Burlesque upon burlesque. 1675


  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online


This week’s interesting word may be familiar to Greek mythology and ancient history enthusiasts. It is usually applied to figures such as Charon, Hecate, Hermes, Apollo and Anubis.

HandA psychopomp is a mythical guide of souls to the place of the dead. It can also be a spiritual guide of a living person’s soul.

Psychopomp is pronounced just as you would expect (you can listen to it here). The word is derived from the Greek word psukhopompos meaning ‘conductor or guide of souls’ – psukhē means ‘soul’ and pompos means ‘conductor’. According to the OED, the first recorded usage was in 1603.

Psychopompal and psychopompous can be used as adjectives and psychopompically is the adverb:

“I, Hermes-like, am coming to fetch you psychopompically to Hell.”

– Rupert Brooke, The letters of Rupert Brooke (1968). 1908

If you have an interest in psychology, you might recognise psychopomp as the term Jung used for the anima or animus (the link between the true inner self and the unconscious).


  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online


EarthThis week’s interesting word is likely to be well known to lovers of science fiction.

Tellurian can be used as an adjective to mean ‘of, inhabiting or relating to the earth’. Readers, writers and watchers of science fiction will probably be familiar with the noun meaning ‘an inhabitant of the planet earth’.

Tellus (or tellur) is the Latin word for earth or ground. Tellus is also the name of the goddess of the earth in Roman mythology or a personified version of the earth (usually female).

Tellurian was used to refer to the earth in the late 18th century, as shown here:

"It will show the heliocentric position of the telurian orb." A Short Account of the Solar System, Bartholomew Burges. 1789.

Its use to mean ‘a person from the planet earth’ was established and flourishing in fiction by the mid 19th century. The text the following example is taken from is available to read on Google Books:

[Spoken by the Man in the Moon] "What monster have we here?—Away, Tellurian!" Blackwood's Magazine, May p555. 1828.

Source: The Oxford English Dictionary (online)


ColdHorripilation is the erection of hairs on the skin caused by cold, fear, excitement or other emotion.

The OED provides one early definition from 1656:

Horripilation, the standing up of the hair for fear..a sudden quaking, shuddering or shivering.” Glossographia, Thomas Blount.

The word originates from the Latin horrere meaning (of hair) ‘to stand on end’ and pilus meaning ‘hair’. Horrere also means ‘to tremble’ or ‘dread’.

Something that causes this reaction is described as horripilant. Horripilate is the form meaning ‘to undergo or to cause horripilation’.


DanceLallygag (or lollygag) is an American slang word. It means ‘to spend time aimlessly’, ‘to be idle’ or ‘to fool around’. It can also mean ‘dawdle’ or ‘dally’.

The origin appears to be unknown. The word forms include lallygagged and lallygagging.

The OED gives examples of early usage, and this one caught my eye:

“The lascivious lolly-gagging lumps of licentiousness who disgrace the common decencies of life by their love-sick fawnings at our public dances.” Northern Vindicator (Estherville, Iowa), 1868.

That’s impressive alliteration and I only wish I could view the rest of the newspaper article (or letter – I bet it’s from a letter).


It’s British Pie Week. It is therefore only fitting that this week’s interesting word should be related to pie.

PieA pie-biter is a person who eats or really likes pies. It can also be a greedy person or animal, or a person who accepts political favours (pie is a slang word for political favour or patronage).

Although rare, pie-biter is a colloquial term typically used in the United States or as derogatory slang in Australia (where the meaning is often ‘a fat person’).

The origin of the word is straightforward: pie meaning ‘a baked dish with a pastry top and/or base’ and biter meaning ‘someone who or something that bites’.

The earliest documented usage in the OED is from 1863.


CloudRumbustious means ‘boisterous’, ‘turbulent’ or ‘unruly’. It is thought to be late 18th century in origin, and it is probably an alteration of the word robustious. Robustious means ‘sturdy’, ‘boisterous’ or ‘rough or violent in manner’.

Rumbustious is typically used in British English. Rambunctious is a variation that originated in the United States and it is now slightly more common than the original (according to the OED).

I like this early usage of one of the many forms of rambunctious:

“Och, Misther McGeever, now..I niver heerd no man accuse you of bein’ anyway rambunkshus about yer nabor’s house.” Century Magazine, 1899