English has two different prefixes that make a word into its opposite.
OK, yes, there are more than two (dis-, a-, anti-, de-, etc.), but in- and un- are the most common.
They bring the sense of “not” to an adjective, and they cause trouble because it is often not clear which one should be used for a particular word. Many pairs of in-/un- words are interchangeable.
“inalienable” and “unalienable” are both correct and mean the same thing (even the drafters of the Declaration of Independence went back and forth on that one), as do “inadvisable” and “unadvisable.”
Still, the two prefixes are not equivalent.
As a pretty flimsy general rule,
UN - goes with Germanic roots and
IN - goes with Latin roots,
as seen in these pairs: unfriendly, inamicable; unteachable; ineducable; unbelievable, incredible. Still, just because a word has a Latin root doesn’t mean it can’t go with un-: see unproductive, unfortunate, unreliable, undesirable, unconscious…and so on.
Un- is also usually found with adjectives formed from participles ending in -ed or -ing: undomesticated, undeveloped, undisciplined, unconcerning, uncomprehending.
On the other hand, if a word has a Germanic root, it pretty much does mean it can’t go with in-. If you do find such a word, it is probably an example of a completely different prefix in-, meaning in or towards (incoming, infield, indwell).
In- is much more restricted than un-.
Un- is freely productive; it can apply to new words (“this haircut is brand new and unselfied!”), while
in- remains frozen in the existing vocabulary, a Latin dinosaur bone.
Un- can even apply to words that already take in-, though when it does it often creates a different, less specific meaning.
while the word “indigestible” can be traced back to the meaning “not able to be digested” it carries extra layers of connotation –food that offends the senses or makes you feel bad, information that is too confusing to process– that “undigestible” doesn’t have. “Undigestible” is more straightforwardly “not able to be digested.”A poorly prepared lasagna is indigestible, but a rock is undigestible. Its meaning is composed of its two parts, while the meaning of “indigestible” comes from its long history of use.
But the search for these kinds of meaning difference can quickly turn messy and confusing. Once you start thinking about this too much, in- and un- words start to switch back and forth in your mind like
a duck/rabbit optical illusion.
Shades of difference in meaning emerge only to dissolve under closer scrutiny.
Surely they mean different things. No, maybe not. Many of these kinds of pairs have been switching back and forth for centuries. (At the current time, the in- forms of these particular words are considered more acceptable.) Some of them have gotten stuck on one setting or the other, and some will continue to be indecisive, or, if you will, undecided.
Effective writing skills are to a writer what petrol is to a car. Like the petrol and car relationship, without solid skills writers cannot move ahead. These skills don’t come overnight, and they require patience and determination. You have to work smart and hard to acquire them. Only with experience, you can enter the realm of effective, always-in-demand writers.
Of course, effective writing requires a good command of the language in which you write or want to write. Once you have that command, you need to learn some tips and tricks so that you can have an edge over others in this hard-to-succeed world of writers. There are some gifted writers, granted. But gifted writers also need to polish their skills frequently in order to stay ahead of competition and earn their livelihood.
We collected over 50 useful and practical tools and resources that will help you to improve your writing skills. You will find copywriting blogs, dictionaries, references, teaching classes, articles, tools as well as related articles from other blogs. Something is missing? Please let us know in the comments to this post!
1. Grammar, Punctuation & Co.
Use English Punctuation Correctly
A quick and useful crash course in English punctuation.
An extensive electronic grammar course at the University of Ottawa’s Writing Centre.
Mignon Fogarty’s quick and dirty tips for better writing. Grammar Girl provides short, friendly tips to improve your writing. Covering the grammar rules and word choice guidelines that can confound even the best writers, Grammar Girl makes complex grammar questions simple with memory tricks to help you recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules.
Better Writing Skills
This site contains 26 short articles with writing tips about ampersands, punctuation, character spacing, apostrophes, semicolons and commas, difference between i.e. and e.g. etc.
The Guide to Grammar and Writing
An older, yet very useful site that will help you to improve your writing on word & sentence level, paragraph level and also essay & research paper level.
A compact resource with over 20 articles that cover abbreviations, capitalization, numbers, punctuation, word usage and writing styles.
Paradigm Online Writing Assistant
This site contains some useful articles that explain common grammar mistakes, basic punctuation, basic sentence concepts etc. Worth visiting and reading. The Learning Centre contains similar articles, but with more examples.
Jack Lynch’s Guide to Grammar and Style
These notes are a miscellany of grammatical rules and explanations, comments on style, and suggestions on usage put by Jack Lynch, an Associate Professor in the English department of the Newark campus of Rutgers University, for his classes.
English Style Guide
This guide is based on the style book which is given to all journalists at The Economist. The site contains various hints on how to use metaphors, punctuation, figures, hyphens etc. Brief and precise.
An extensive guidance on grammar and style for technical writing.
40+ Tips to Improve your Grammar and Punctuation
“Purdue University maintains an online writing lab and I spent some time digging through it. Originally the goal was to grab some good tips that would help me out at work and on this site, but there is simply too much not to share.”
2. Common mistakes and problems
Common Errors in English
A collection of common errors in English, with detailed explanations and descriptions of each error.
AskOxford: Better Writing
A very useful reference for classic errors and helpful hints with a terrible site navigation.
Dr. Grammar’s Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to common grammar questions related to English grammar, with examples and additional explanations.
English Grammar FAQ
A list of common English language problems and how to solve them. This list was compiled through an extensive archive of postings to alt.usage.english by John Lawler, Linguistics, U. Michigan, Ann Arbor.
3. General Writing Skills
Infoplease: General Writing Skills
Various articles that aim to teach students how to write better.
The Elements of Style
A freely available online version of the book “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr., the classic reference book.
learning lab / writing skills
This site offers over 20 .pdf-documents with main rules and common mistakes related to summarising, paraphrasing, referencing, sentences, paragraphs, linking words and business writing. Handy.
UsingEnglish.com provides a large collection of English as a Second Language (ESL) tools & resources for students, teachers, learners and academics. Browse our grammar glossary and references of irregular verbs, phrasal verbs and idioms, ESL forums, articles, teacher handouts and printables, and find useful links and information on English. Topics cover the spectrum of ESL, EFL, ESOL, and EAP subject areas.
Online Writing Courses
Free courses are a great way to improve your writing skills. The courses shown here focus on several types of creative writing, including poetry, essay writing and fiction writing.
4. Practical Guides To Better Writing Skills
Copywriting 101: An Introduction to Copywriting
This tutorial is designed to get you up and running with the basics of writing great copy in ten easy lessons. Afterwards, you’ll get recommendations for professional copywriting training, plus links to tutorials on SEO copywriting and writing killer headlines.
A Guide to Writing Well
“This guide was mainly distilled from On Writing Well by William Zinsser and The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Other sources are listed in the bibliography. My memory being stubborn and lazy, I compiled this so I could easily refresh myself on writing well. I hope it will also be helpful to others.”
Online Copywriting 101: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet
The ultimate cheat sheet with various Web copy resources that copywriters can use to lean the best writing tips and ideas. More copywriting cheat sheets.
Headlines and Trigger Words
- 50 Trigger Words and Phrases for Powerful Multimedia Content
- 21 Traffic Triggers for Social Media Marketing
- How To Write Magnetic Headlines (and even more headlines)
- Passive Voice Is Redeemed For Web Headings
- 5 Simple Ways to Open Your Blog Post With a Bang
- Landing Page Tutorials and Case Studies
- Copywriting for e-Commerce
Common mistakes and errors
- 10 flagrant grammar mistakes that make you look stupid
- The Seven Deadly Sins of Website Copy
- Six Common Punctuation Errors that Bedevil Bloggers
Writing tips from experts
- 10 Writing Tips from the Masters
- George Orwell’s tips on better writing
- Stephen King’s Top 7 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer
- Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well
- Writing hacks (hacks for writing) by Scott Berkun
- What Is Good Content?
- 10 Steps Toward Better Writing
- A Guide To Becoming A Better Writer: 15 Practical Tips
- 10 simple things you can do to improve your writing
- 7 Can’t-Miss Ways To Kick-Start The Writing Habit
- 10 Writing Tips for Web Designers
- Activate Your Verbs
- How to Write Faster, Better, and Easier
- Writing Tips for Non-Writers Who Don’t Want to Work at Writing
- How to Write Persuasive Links
- A Guide to Becoming a Better Writer: 15 Practical Tips
- 21 Must-Read Tips To Write Better Web Content
5. Copywriting Blogs
Now that blogging has become the smartest strategy for growing an authoritative web site, it’s your copywriting skills that will set you apart and help you succeed. And this is where Copyblogger comes into play. Brian Clark’s popular blog covers useful copywriting tips, guidelines and ideas.
Write to Done
Leo Babuta’s blog about the craft and the art of writing. The blog covers many topics: journalism, blog writing, freelance writing, fiction, non-fiction, getting a book deal, the business of writing, the habit of writing. Updated twice weekly.
Darren Rowse’s blog helps bloggers to add income streams to their blogs – among other things, Darren also has hundreds of useful articles related to copy writing.
Men with Pens
A regularly updated blog with useful tips for writers, freelancers and entrepreneurs.
Time to Write
Jurgen Wolff’s tips, ideas, inspirations for writers and would-be writers and other creative people.
Daily Writing Posts
“Whether you are an attorney, manager, student or blogger, writing skills are essential for your success. Considering the rise of the information age, they are even more important, as people are surrounded by e-mails, wikis, social networks and so on.
“It can be difficult to hone one’s writing skills within this fast paced environment. Daily Writing Tips is a blog where you will find simple yet effective tips to improve your writing.”
“Copywriting website is jam-packed with useful information, articles, resources and services geared to show you how to write mouth-watering, profit-generating copy. Copy that changes minds and dramatically boosts your results. So come right in… you’re going to like what you see! It has copywriting courses, tools, articles and much more.”
Dumb Little Man: Writing
Jay White provides a handful of tips that may increase your productivity and improve your skills. You’ll find many tips and ideas for better writing in his archive category “Writing”.
The Copywriter Underground
A copywriting blog by the freelance writer Tom Chandler.
This collection of resources includes links to 30 posts on Lifehack that may help you to improve your writing skills.
OneLook Dictionary Search
More than 13,5 million words in more than 1024 online dictionaries are indexed by the OneLook search engine. You can find, define, and translate words all at one site.
Look up words to find their meanings and associations with other words and concepts. Produce diagrams reminiscent of a neural net. Learn how words associate.
Merriam Webster: Visual Dictionary
The Visual Dictionary Online is an interactive dictionary with an innovative approach. From the image to the word and its definition, the Visual Dictionary Online is an all-in-one reference. Search the themes to quickly locate words, or find the meaning of a word by viewing the image it represents. What’s more, the Visual Dictionary Online helps you learn English in a visual and accessible way.
OneLook Reverse Dictionary
OneLook’s reverse dictionary lets you describe a concept and get back a list of words and phrases related to that concept. Your description can be a few words, a sentence, a question, or even just a single word.
Online Spell Checker
Free online spell checker that provides you with quick and accurate results for texts in 28 languages (German, English, Spanish, French, Russian, Italian, Portuguese etc.). An alternative tool: Spelljax.
GNU Aspell is a Free and Open Source spell checker designed to eventually replace Ispell. It can either be used as a library or as an independent spell checker. Its main feature is that it does a superior job of suggesting possible replacements for a misspelled word than just about any other spell checker out there for the English language.
A one-click English thesaurus and dictionary for Windows that can look up words in almost any program. It works off-line, but can also look up words in web references such as the Wikipedia encyclopedia. Features of the free version include definitions and synonyms, proper nouns, 150 000 root words and 120 000 synonym sets.
As you write, hold the alt key and click on a word to find a rhyme for it.
This English conjugator will help you to determine how to use verbs in the proper tense.
Wordcounter ranks the most frequently used words in any given body of text. Use this to see what words you overuse or maybe just to find some keywords from a document. Text Statistics Generator is an alternative tool: it gives you a quick analysis of number of word occurrences.
Advanced Text Analyzer (requires registration)
This free tool analyzes texts, calculating the number of words, lexical density, words per sentence, character per word and the readability of the text as well as word analysis, phrase analysis and graded analysis. Useful! Alternative tool.
Graviax Grammar Checker
Grammar rules (XML files containing regular expressions) and grammar checker. Currently only for the English language, although it could be extended. Unit tests are built into the rules. Might form the basis of a grammar checker for OpenOffice.
Txt2tags is a document generator. It reads a text file with minimal markup as **bold** and //italic// and converts it to the formats HTML, LaTeX, MediaWiki, Google Code Wiki, DokuWiki, Plain text and more.
Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML). Requires Perl 5.6.0 or later.
7. Further Resources
50 Useful Open Source Resources For Writers and Writing Majors
And if you’re a writing major, why not take advantage of all the opportunities to get great free and open source resources that can help you to write, edit and organize your work? Here’s a list of fifty open source tools that you can use to make your writing even better.
If you have a question related to English Grammar, join these forums to get advice from others who know the language better or can provide you with some related information.
The Ultimate Writing Productivity Resource
A round-up of applications, services, resources, tools, posts and communities for writers and bloggers who want to improve their writing skills.
Charting the evolution of a gender-hopping, meaning-changing, spelling-flexible word
People fear, loathe, and ignore change.
The term “Brontosaurus” lost its official status to the correct “Apatosaurus” over a hundred years ago, but try telling that to a dino-loving kid. Those of us raised to believe Pluto is a planet will be sticking up for that demoted little rock till we’re buried. Recently, the Scrabble world went into a code-4 uproar when it seemed that the rules might be changed to allow proper names. (Don’t worry, folks, the change only applied to a new game called Scrabble Trickster.)
When it comes to the meaning of words themselves, change is even more upsetting. In a terrific article for the Boston Globe, Erin McKean looked at how “guys” is now frequently used to address groups of men and women. She writes: “Whether from a dearth of suitable alternatives or just from habit, ‘you guys,’ if not completely entrenched, is well on the way to being the standard casual way to address a group. Rather than fight that battle, we may want to save some indignation for the next awkward form of address to surface. I’m thinking it’s probably ‘dudes.’ (Seriously, dudes.)”
I know a segue when I see one.
is a magnificent specimen for discussing language change in general, because
its meaning has shifted and shimmied a ton
in a relatively short period of time.
Originally, back in the 1800s, “dude” referred to a dandy-ish sort of doofus. As the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, “dude” was “a name given in ridicule to a man affecting an exaggerated fastidiousness in dress, speech, and deportment, and very particular about what is æsthetically ‘good form’.” Later, in the American West, the term came to refer to “a non-westerner or city-dweller who tours or stays in the west of the U.S., esp. one who spends his holidays on a ranch,” and the tourist-attracting, money-making ranches they visited were “dude ranches.”
In the 20th century, “dude” evolved to take on a more neutral meaning. The term was adopted in the black community, then as now a prime spreader of new words and meanings. This 1967 OED example reflected the shift in meaning: “My set of Negro street types contained a revolving and sometimes disappearing (when the ‘heat’, or police pressure, was on) population… These were the local ‘dudes’, their term meaning not the fancy city slickers but simply ‘the boys’, ‘fellas’, the ‘cool people’.” In the sixties, the term attracted more coolness as it was embraced by surf culture, and by the seventies, a dude was just a guy.
The dude-slaught gained momentum through the 1980s and 1990s, as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and dude-heavy movies such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Wayne’s World, and Clerks helped make “dude” a ubiquitous (and, yep, often annoying) word. “Dude” became a widely used exclamation as well. The interjection sense of “dude” has been spoofed many times in comics and commercials. Here John Swansburg looks at a brilliant Bud Light ad in which the only word uttered is “dude,” pointing out the various purposes of the d-word, including “The interrogative dude” and “The deflated dude.”
As for dudes and gender, there is a surprisingly long history of women being dudes—and not just in terms such as “dudette” and “dudine.” The OED records “dude” as meaning “a person (of either sex). Freq. as a familiar form of address” as far back as 1974. This 1981 use is typical: “We’re not talking about a lame chick and a gnarly guy. We’re talking about a couple of far-out dudes.” But even as far back as 1952, Robert E. Knoll wrote, “Nor do my students believe that a dude must be a man, for a city woman as well as her husband can be a dude.” And in University of Pittsburgh linguistics prof Scott Kiesling’s 2004 article “Dude”—the most recent example of dude scholarship—he found that while “dude” is used most often in male-male interactions, it is used in every possible gender combination, and more among women than in mixed-gender groups. Dude-spouting women share what Kiesling calls the “cool solidarity” that “dude” provides.
In a non-surprise, Kiesling found that men are least likely to use “dude” in “intimate relationships with women,” though they will use it often with close female friends. This confirms the long-held belief that “dude” is not anyone’s idea of an aphrodisiac. Well, unless you’re turned on by wordplay, such as the OED-recorded “dudedom,” “dudeness,” “dudery,” “dudism,” and “dudish”—all used in the late 1800s for foppish fellows—or contemporary spellings such as “dood,” “duuuude,” and “duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude.”
And then there are the variations of the stammering Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, a sacred text for comtemporary dudes everywhere:
“I am not Mr. Lebowski. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude, so that’s what you call me, you know, uh, that or, uh, His Dudeness or Duder or, uh, El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.“
Who could complain about the evolution of a word with innovations like that? Only those foolhardy or brave enough to risk the cool-free state Bridges’ co-star John Goodman described as “very un-dude.“
A synonym is a word that means the same as another.
Necessary and required are synonyms.
An antonym is a word that means the opposite of another.
Wet and dry are antonyms.
While synonyms and antonyms are not in themselves interesting, the complexities and irregularities of the English language sometimes make synonyms and antonyms interesting to explore. Many complexities result from words having multiple definitions.
A trivial example is a word with synonyms that aren’t synonyms of each other, the word beam, for example, having the synonyms bar and shine.
Similarly, some words have antonyms that are neither synonyms nor antonyms of each other but completely unrelated: the word right, for example, having the antonyms wrong and left.
A more interesting paradox occurs with the word groom, which does not really have an antonym in the strictest sense but has an opposite of sorts in the word bride, which can be used as a prefix to create a synonym, bridegroom.
The word contronym (also antagonym) is used to refer to words that, by some freak of language evolution, are their own antonyms.
Both contronym and antagonym are neologisms; however, there is no alternative term that is more established in the English language.
Contronyms are special cases of homographs (two words with the same spelling).
- anabasis - military advance/military retreat
- apology - admission of fault in what you think, say, or do/formal defense of what you think, say, or do
- aught - all/nothing
- bolt - secure/run away
- by - multiplication (e.g., a three by five matrix)/ division (e.g., dividing eight by four)
- chuffed - pleased/annoyed
- cleave - separate/adhere
- clip - fasten/detach
- consult - ask for advice/give advice
- copemate - partner/antagonist
- custom - usual/special
- deceptively smart - smarter than one appears/dumber than one appears
- dike - wall/ditch
- discursive - proceeding coherently from topic to topic/moving aimlessly from topic to topic
- dollop - a large amount/a small amount
- dust - add fine particles/remove fine particles
- enjoin - prescribe/prohibit
- fast - quick/unmoving
- first degree – most severe (e.g., murder)/ least severe (e.g., burn)
- fix - restore/castrate
- flog - criticize harshly,/promote aggressively
- garnish - enhance (e.g., food)/curtail (e.g., wages)
- give out – produce/stop production
- grade - incline/level
- handicap - advantage/disadvantage
- help - assist/prevent (e.g., “I can’t help it if…“)
- left - remaining/departed from
- liege - sovereign lord/loyal subject
- mean - average/excellent (e.g., “plays a mean game“)
- off - off/on (e.g., “the alarm went off“)
- out - visible (e.g., stars)/invisible (e.g., lights)
- out of – outside/inside (e.g., “work out of one’s home“)
- oversight - error/care
- pitted - with the pit in/with the pit removed
- put out – extinguish/generate (e.g., something putting out light)
- quiddity - essence/trifling point
- quite - rather/completely
- ravel - tangle/disentangle
- rent - buy use of/sell use of
- rinky-dink – insignificant/one who frequents RinkWorks
- sanction - approve/boycott
- sanguine - hopeful/murderous (obsolete synonym for “sanguinary“)
- screen - show/hide
- seed - add seeds (e.g., “to seed a field“)/remove seeds (e.g., “to seed a tomato“)
- skinned - with the skin on/with the skin removed
- strike - hit/miss (in baseball)
- table - propose (in the United Kingdom)/set aside (in the United States)
- transparent - invisible/obvious
- unbending - rigid/relaxing
- variety - one type (e.g., “this variety“), many types (e.g., “a variety“)
- wear - endure through use/decay through use
- weather - withstand/wear away
- wind up – end/start up (e.g., a watch)
- with - alongside/against
Finding such idiosyncrasies in slang is much easier. The word bad can be used as slang to mean good. The word bomb has two slang meanings: failure (as usually used in the United States) and success (as usually used in the United Kingdom).
Some noteworthy antonyms aren’t homographs (words that are spelled the same) but homophones (words that are pronounced the same). Some of these include:
- aural, oral – heard/spoken
- erupt, irrupt – burst out/burst in
- petalless, petalous – lacking petals/having petals
- raise, raze – erect/ tear down
Homophones that are near-antonyms:
- reckless, wreckless
3. Avoid “Dear Sir” or “Dear Sirs” as a greeting. It excludes the possibility of a woman as your reader. Instead, whenever possible, learn the reader’s name and use it. If you cannot discover your reader’s name, use a generic term such as “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Credit Representative,” or use “Dear Sir or Madam.”
Compiled by Stephen Chrisomalis
This list contains 168 definitions of obscure colour terms using combinations of ‘normal‘ colours of the rainbow and descriptive adjectives; e.g. cardinal = deep scarlet red; russet = reddish brown. Note that most English speakers outside the U.S. spell colour with the added British ‘u’ rather than the American version color. Don’t worry if the colours (or colors) in your universe don’t match up with the definitions I’ve given for these words, though – I’ve been known to have skewed perceptions of reality … Read More…
To paraphrase Krusty the Clown, comedy isn’t dirty words—it’s words that sound dirty, like mukluk. He’s right, of course. Some words really do sound like they mean something quite different from their otherwise entirely innocent definition (a mukluk is an Inuit sealskin boot, in case you were wondering), and no matter how clean-minded you might be, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow or a wry smile whenever someone says something like cockchafer or sexangle. Here are 50 words that might sound rude, but really aren’t. Honest.
If you read that as “a-hole,” then think again. Aholehole is pronounced “ah-holy-holy,” and is the name of a species of Hawaiian flagtail fish native to the central Pacific.
Aktashite is a rare mineral used commercially as an ore of arsenic, copper, and mercury. It takes its name from the village of Aktash in eastern Russia, where it was first discovered in 1968. The final –ite , incidentally, is the same mineralogical suffix as in words like graphite and kryptonite.
While exploring the coast of Virginia in 1606, Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) wrote in his journal of a creature known to local tribes as the assapanick . By “spreading their legs, and so stretching the largeness of their skins,” he wrote, “they have been seen to fly 30 or 40 yards.” Assapanick is another name for the flying squirrel.
Assart is an old medieval English legal term for an area of forested land that has been converted into arable land for growing crops. It can also be used as a verb meaning “to deforest,” preparing wooded land for farming.
Derived from bastón, the Spanish word for a cane or walking stick, bastinado is an old 16th century word for a thrashing or caning, especially on the soles of the feet.
As well as being the name of a former shipping port in northern Tasmania, boobyalla is also an Aborigine name for the wattlebird, one of a family of honeyeaters native to much of Australia.
In his Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Samuel Johnson described a bum-bailiff as “a bailiff of the meanest kind,” and in particular, “one that is employed in arrests.”
To bumfiddle means to pollute or spoil something, in particular by scribbling or drawing on a document to make it invalid. A bumfiddler is someone who does precisely that.
Like the aholehole, the bummalo is another tropical fish, in this case a southeast Asian lizardfish. When listed on Indian menus it goes by the slightly more appetizing name of “Bombay duck.”
According to a Tudor dictionary published in 1552, a clatterfart is someone who “wyl disclose anye light secreate”—in other words, it’s a gossip or blabbermouth.
Cockapert is an Elizabethan name for “a saucy fellow” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but it can also be used as an adjective meaning “impudent” or “smart-alecky.”
A cock-bell can be a small handbell, a type of wildflower that grows in the spring, and an old English dialect word for an icicle. In any case, it’s derived from coque, the French word for a seashell.
The cockchafer is a large beetle native to Europe and western Asia. The origin of its name is a mystery, but one theory claims the beetles are so characteristically aggressive that they can be made to fight one another like cockerels.
Standing little more than a foot tall at the shoulder, the dik-dik is one of the smallest antelopes in all of Africa. Their name is apparently an imitation of their alarm call.
A dreamhole is a small slit or opening made in the wall of a building to let in sunlight or fresh air. It was also once used to refer to holes in watchtowers used by lookouts and guards, or to openings left in the walls of church towers to amplify the sounds of the bells.
According to one 19th century glossary of industrial slang, a fanny-blower or fanner was “used in the scissor-grinding industry,” and comprised “a wheel with vanes, fixed onto a rotating shaft, enclosed in a case or chamber to create a blast of air.” In other words, it’s a fan.
Fartlek is a form of athletic training in which intervals of intensive and much less strenuous exercise are alternated in one long continuous workout. It literally means “speed-play” in Swedish.
Fuk was an old Middle English word for a sail, and in particular the foremost sail on a ship. A fukmast, ultimately, is a ship’s foremast, while the fuksheet or fuksail is the sail attached to the ship’s fukmast.
To grope a gull is an old Tudor English expression meaning “to take advantage of someone,” or “to swindle an unsuspecting victim”—and a gullgroper does just that.
Taking its name from an Arabic word meaning “blustering” or “blowing,” a haboob is a dry wind that blows across deserts, dustbowls, and other arid regions often at great speed, forming vast sandstorms as it goes. Haboobs are typically caused by the collapse of a cold front of air, which blasts dust and sediment up from the desert floor as it falls.
The Oxford English Dictionary calls a humpenscrump “a musical instrument of rude construction.” Alongside others like humstrum, celestinette and wind-broach, it was originally another name for the hurdy-gurdy.
Invagination is simply the process of putting something inside something else (and in particular, a sword into a scabbard), or else is the proper name for turning something inside out. The opposite is called evagination.
Jaculation is the act of throwing or jostling something around, while to jaculate means “to rush or jolt forward suddenly.”
A jerkinhead is a roof that is only partly gabled (i.e., only forms part of a triangle beneath its eaves) and is instead levelled or squared off at the top, forming a flattened area known as a “hip.” Jerkinheads are also known as “half-hipped” or “clipped-gable” roofs.
As well as being an old nickname for a walking stick or truncheon, knobstick is an old 19th century slang word for a workman who breaks a strike, or for a person hired to take the place of a striking employee.
Like the haboob, the kumbang is another hot, arid wind, in this case one that blows seasonally in the lowlands of western Indonesia.
Lobcock is an old Tudor English word for an idiot or an unsophisticated, clownish bumpkin. Lobcocked is an equally ancient adjective meaning “boorish” or “naïve.”
A nestle-cock is the last bird to hatch from a clutch of eggs. It dates from the early 1600s, when it was also used as a nickname for an overly spoilt or pampered child.
Nicker-pecker is an old English dialect name for the European green woodpecker, the largest woodpecker native to Great Britain. In this context nicker is probably a derivative of nick, meaning a small cut or scratch.
In early 19th century English, boxers were nicknamed nobbers, a name apparently derived from the earlier use of nobber as a slang name for a punch or blow to the head.
Nodgecock, like lobcock, is another Tudor word for a fool or simpleton. It likely derives from an even earlier word, noddypoll, for someone who senselessly nods their head in agreement with any idea, no matter how good or bad it might be.
Pakapoo is a 19th century Australian word for a lottery or raffle. It apparently derives from a Cantonese phrase, baahk gáap piu, literally meaning “white pigeon ticket”—the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that in the original form of the game, a white dove might have been trained to select the winning ticket from all of the entries.
Definitely not what it sounds like, peniaphobia is actually the fear of poverty.
Penistone (pronounced “pen-is-tun”, before you ask) is the name of a picturesque market town in Yorkshire, England, which has given its name to both a type of coarse woollen fabric and a type of locally produced sandstone.
The Scots word pershittie means “prim,” or “overly meticulous.” It’s one of a family of late 18th–early 19th century Scots words all of similar meaning, including perjinkity, perskeety, and, most familiar of all, pernickety.
Pissalat is a condiment popular in southern French cookery made from puréed anchovies and olive oil, mixed with garlic, pepper, and herbs. It’s used to make a type of open bread tart called a pissaladière, which is flavoured with onions and black olives.
Pissasphalt is a thick semi-liquid form of bitumen, similar to tar. The first part of the name is the Greek word for pitch, pissa.
Poonga oil is obtained from the seeds of the Indian beech tree, Pongamia pinnata, and is widely used across southern India as everything from a skin treatment to a replacement for diesel in engines and generators.
Spelled with one T, a sackbut is an early Renaissance brass instrument similar to a trombone. Spelled with two Ts, a sack-butt is a wine barrel.
The adjective sexagesimal means “relating to the number 60,” while anything that proceeds sexagesimally does so in sets of 60 at a time. A sexagesm, ultimately, is one-sixtieth of something.
Both sexangle and the equally indelicate sexagon are simply old 17th century names for what is otherwise known as a hexagon, a plane geometric shape with six sides. The prefix sexa– is derived from the Latin word for “six” rather than its Greek equivalent, heks.
Dating back to the Middle English period, foil is an old-fashioned name for a leaf or petal, which is retained in the names of plants like the bird’s-foot trefoil, a type of clover, and the creeping cinquefoil, a low-growing weed of the rose family. A sexfoil is ultimately a six-leaved plant or flower, or a similarly-shaped architectural design or ornament incorporating six leaves or lobes.
The shittah is a type of acacia tree native to Arabia and north-east Africa that is mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah as one of the trees that God “will plant in the wilderness” of Israel, alongside the cedar, pine, and myrtle. Its name was adopted into English from Hebrew in the early Middle Ages, but it can probably be traced all the way back to an Ancient Egyptian word for a thorn-tree.
Billcock , brook-ouzel, oar-cock, velvet runner, grey-skit, and skiddy-cock are all old English dialect names for the water rail, a small and notoriously elusive wading bird found in the wetlands of Europe, Asia, and north Africa. The name skiddy-cock is thought to be derived from skit, an old 17th century word meaning “to act shyly,” or “to move rapidly and quickly”—but it could just as probably be derived from an even older 15th century word, skitter, meaning “to produce watery excrement.”
In 19th century English, a slagger was a workman in a blast furnace whose job it was to siphon off the stony waste material, or slag, that is produced when raw metals and ores are melted at high temperatures. Even earlier than that, in 16th century English, slagger was a verb, variously used to mean “to loiter” or “creep,” or “to stumble” or “walk awkwardly.”
Staying with furnaces, a tease-hole is simply the opening in a glassmaker’s furnace through which the fuel is added.
Sheep farmers in some rural parts of Britain once had their own traditional counting systems, many of which are particularly ancient and predate even the Norman and Anglo-Saxon invasions of England. Most of these counting systems vanished during the Industrial Revolution, but several remain in use locally and have become fossilised in local rhymes, sayings and folk songs. Tether was an old Lake District name for the number three, while dick was the number ten; tetheradick, ultimately, was a count of 13.
Tit-bore—or tit-bore-tat-bore, in full—is an old 17th century Scots name for a game of peekaboo. It was once also called hitty-titty, as was, incidentally, hide and go seek.
The tit-tyrants are a family of eight species of flycatcher native to the Andes Mountains and the westernmost rainforests of South America. One of the species, the ash-breasted tit-tyrant, is one of the world’s most endangered birds with fewer than 1000 individuals left in a handful of remote, high-altitude sites in Peru and Bolivia.
Wankapin, or water chinquapin, is another name for the American lotus, Nelumbo lutea, a flowering plant native to Central American wetlands. The lotus was apparently introduced to what is now the southern United States by native tribes who would use the plant’s tubers and seeds (known as “alligator corn”) as a source of food.