Archive for New-to-me Words

kenopsia and other obscure sorrows

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows “is a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for.” For example, kenopsia is “the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually […]

human biodiversity

I recently encountered yet another vaguely-scientific-sounding term that’s used to make racism sound less bad: human biodiversity, also known as HBD. RationalWiki explains the way that the phrase tries to come across as innocuous (to be clear, RationalWiki is being snarkily opposed to racism here): By being just one “bio” away from supporting “diversity” and […]


My dictionary defines nescience as “lack of knowledge or awareness.” It gives ignorance as a synonym. I encountered it in a Robert Anton Wilson book, where he was using it essentially as the opposite of omniscience.


According to Wikipedia: A bitterant […] is a chemical that is added to a product to make it smell or taste bitter. Bitterants are commonly used as aversive agents to discourage the inhalation or ingestion of toxic substances. This is one of those cases where the meaning was pretty obvious from context; I saw it […]


Another word I encountered recently in a Thurber essay is fleam. According to Wikipedia: A fleam, also flem, flew, flue, fleame, or phleam, was a handheld instrument used for bloodletting. For a great deal more on that topic, see also A Short History of the Fleam, by Kevin Goodman, who’s described as also being the […]


My dictionary says that flagitious is a synonym for villainous. It’s been used in English since the 14th century, but I don’t think I’ve seen it before. (I encountered it recently in a Thurber essay.) World Wide Words gives more info, and notes that the word is related to flagellate but not to flagrant.

as who should say

Reading a Thurber essay about Henry James, I came across this phrase: James’s Renunciation Scene is managed, as who should say, rather more exquisitely than Hammett’s I hadn’t encountered the phrase as who should say before, so I mentally marked it to look up later, and I kept reading. On the next page, Thurber writes: […]


According to Wikipedia: […] a labile verb […] (or ergative verb) is a verb that can be either transitive or intransitive, and whose subject when intransitive corresponds to its direct object when transitive. […] In English, most verbs can be used intransitively, but ordinarily this does not change the role of the subject; consider, for […]