Watch out for snickersnees and barbermongers

Published 5:52 pm Friday, July 15, 2022

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We use words every day to communicate our thoughts, but we don’t always think much about them as they’re spilling from our mouths (or flowing from our fingertips, if you’re communicating online). There are plenty of common words we use multiple times per day. Some words are even essential to being able to communicate clearly.

But then, there are also just a bunch of strange and random words out there. The ones that don’t mean very much but are fun to say. Or the ones that mean something weird and sound even weirder. Every now and then, the website for the Merriam-Webster dictionary shares some pretty interesting tidbits about different words, their histories, and their meanings. And recently, they put together a “volume two” list of obscure, obsolete, and mostly useless words.

Let me share with you some of my favorites from the list! Even if they might not become a staple of your regular conversations, at least you’ll have learned something interesting today! (Maybe tuck a few of these away to use as trivia at parties whenever there’s a lull in conversation.)

Ultracrepidarian – “giving opinions on matters beyond one’s knowledge”

According to Merriam-Webster, the word apparently originated as a Latin translation of something a famous Greek painter once said in response to a shoemaker who criticized his work. Though the origin might be quite old, I can think of several modern examples where this word could be applied. Who hasn’t been sucked into a conversation with a person confidently talking about something they clearly don’t know much about?

Antithalian – “opposed to festivities”

Yeah, okay, I have to admit that sometimes this word would be perfect to describe myself. Parties and friendly gatherings are fun on occasion, but I just prefer to enjoy some peace and quite when I can. Holidays are too tiring!

“Fleshment” – “excitement associated with a successful beginning”

Admit it. You did not guess what the definition of this word was at first glance.

Mundivagant – “wandering over the world”

A good word for anyone who’d like to travel, especially after spending so much time at home during the pandemic. Also maybe a literal word for anyone stuck at various airports having to reschedule their routes because of canceled and delayed flights.

Barbermonger – “a man who is devoted to or vain about his appearance or dress”

Merriam-Webster notes that “a good insult never goes out of style” so feel free to incorporate this word into your vocabulary if necessary. It may be an obscure word, but it might not be completely useless! After all, nobody likes a barbermonger, right?

Snickersnee – “to engage in cut-and-thrust fighting with knives”; “a large knife”

Out of all these words, I personally think this one is the most fun to say. Not the most fun to be involved in, of course. But definitely fun to talk about. The next time you’re bored, just think about all your favorite fictional knife fights and try to decide which character was the best at snickersneeing.

Spanghew – “to throw violently into the air”; “especially, to throw (a frog) into the air from the end of a stick”

If you’ve ever wondered if a word can be too specific, or if you’ve ever wanted to have a conversation about frog-tossing… for any reason, I suppose… here is the perfect word for you! Merriam-Webster, unfortunately, did not provide any information on how this oddly-specific verb came to be, so the history will remain a mystery.

(Note: please do not actually spanghew any frogs. That’s not nice!)

Neighborstained – “stained with the blood of neighbors”

Okay, this one is pretty self-explanatory but also incredibly ominous! Again, it’s one of those words you’d like to use only when discussing something fictional. William Shakespeare actually used the word in a passage of Romeo and Juliet, which isn’t all that surprising given the play’s subject matter about feuding families.

Apiculate – “ending abruptly in a small distinct point”

The dictionary notes that this is a word botanists use when they’re describing features of different leaves. I’m not a botanist myself, so I just say “ouch, that leaf was kind of pointy on the end.”

Smaragdine – “yellowish green in color like an emerald”

Confuse department store salespeople by telling them you’re looking for a “smaragdine” shirt!

Chevelure – “a head of hair”

I know a couple of people who could not use this word to describe their appearances… For the sake of continuing to enjoy family gatherings, however, I will not call any of those people out.

Sloomy – “sleepy, sluggish”

Another personal favorite on this list, just because it’s fun to pronounce. Try drawing that vowel sound out: sloooooomy! See, I’m giggling but I’m also already getting sleepy just saying it.

Agelast – “a person who never laughs”

If you’re an agelast, you probably haven’t enjoyed any of this column. My condolences. But on the bright side, we’re almost at the end here!

Yeuky – “itchy”

An old Scottish synonym for when you’re feeling itchy. I like it. It’s simple, and it reminds me of the word “yucky”, which is how I feel whenever I’m itchy. Stay away from mosquitos and you’ll be lucky enough not to feel yeuky this year.

I hope you enjoyed this compilation of mostly useless words. Feel free to spice up your regular conversations with these words, and check out the Merriam-Webster website for more!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.