Weird words to befuddle your word game opponents

Published 4:55 pm Friday, November 11, 2022

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It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity, but I’ve always enjoyed attending a game night. Board games or card games, it doesn’t matter to me. There’s just something fun about playing a game and trying to win.

Some, of course, are more entertaining than others. Winning at Monopoly has never been my strong suit, but I always liked guessing the murderer in a game of Clue. Card games are easy to learn, but board games with a ton of complex rules make my head spin. And I think we can all agree that getting to shout “Uno” or “Yahtzee” makes your gaming experience ten times more exciting.

But this week’s column is for the people who really enjoy word games, like Scrabble or Hangman and any other similar games. As it so happens, the Merriam-Webster dictionary website – which regularly compiles fascinating lists of different kinds of words – recently shared nine “irregular and unpredictable words”, which would all be great to use if you want to get the upper hand in a word game. Here is the list:

Chthonic – “of or relating to the underworld; infernal”

It’s not every day you see that combination of letters at the beginning of a word. In fact, according to the dictionary, the only other English word beginning with this same series of letters is an adjective variant: chthonian. The word has Greek origins, and if you’re wondering how to pronounce it, the “ch” is silent.

Squush – “to squash or crush (something); to emit a sucking sound; to squish”

The word itself looks like you’ve made a typo, like you left your finger on the “u” key for just a second too long. But this is a real word first used in the 1940s, coined to be a variation of “squish.” And just like “squish”, you can change this verb into an adjective: “squushy”

Doesn’t that just sound a bit gross to say? It’s quite a memorable word that would be useful in Scrabble if you don’t have enough tiles to spell out other double-u’d words like vacuum.

Kickshaw – “a fancy dish; delicacy; trinket”

The dictionary article points out that this would be a great word for hangman since it’s eight letters but only two of those are vowels. I never would have guessed the meaning of this word just by looking at it, but apparently, it’s got its origins in some misunderstood French, so that makes a little more sense. I never understand French at all!

Zugzwang – “the necessity of moving in chess when it is to one’s disadvantage”

Unlike in chess, I think using this word in Scrabble would be more of an advantage just for the simple fact that you can get rid of not one but two z’s in one word. You can thank German for that, since it’s a loanword in English. Zug means “pull, tug” and zwang means “force, coercion.”

Before reading the article, I was unfamiliar with the term, but I’ve always been more of a checkers girl than a chess player, personally.

Ytterbium – “a soft metallic element of the rare-earth group…”

This word is actually on the periodic table of elements! It’s just not up there with the easier-to-remember ones like hydrogen, helium, oxygen, etc. Even though the word looks like something you’d accidentally type if you sneezed with your fingers on the keyboard, it’s actually named for the town Ytterby in Sweden. (I assume they also did not name the town while sneezing.)

Randkluft – “A chasm formed when ice recedes from a mountainside or breaks away from stationary ice”

Once again, we can thank German for this word which is a mash-up of rand (meaning “rim”) and kluft (meaning “crevice”). I have no witty joke for this one. I just think it’s fun to say. Randkluft!

Yclept – “past particle of clepe”

Of course, now you’re wondering what clepe means, right? Don’t worry. It simply means “to name or call.” According to Merriam-Webster, sticking the y at the beginning of the word is a Middle English prefix (not to be confused with Old English, when the prefix was “ge” instead). I feel like I probably learned this when I took History of the English Language in college, but that class was at 8 a.m. every week so I definitely didn’t retain much.

Diphthong – “a gliding monosyllabic speech sound (such as the vowel combination at the end of toy)”

Unlike History of the English Language, my linguistics class was a lot more interesting and I definitely remember us using this term when describing other words. (Sorry, no, this word has nothing to do with thongs, the undergarment. It’s all academia.) Apparently, it used to be spelled as “diptonge” but modern English decided to borrow from Greek for some reason, giving us this spelling that has way too many consonants for a word used to discuss vowels.

“Squdgy” – “squat, pudgy”

Saving the best for last, we have “squdgy.” The example photo the website used with this word is a delightful squat and pudgy cat (hence the word, squdgy) who is sitting outside like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Coincidentally, this is also how I feel sometimes when reclining on my couch, so I think I’m going to have to add this word into my regular vocabulary. (Of course, if I do that, it might not catch you off guard if we ever get into a game of hangman. But I think I’d be willing to sacrifice a win for that!)

Have fun playing around with these nine words, whether that’s in a word game or just casually “squushing” them into a conversation! (Using “zugzwang” will make you sound extra smart, even if you don’t know the rules of chess.)

English is a weird language, and it’s always fun to add a few more weird words to your repertoire. You never know when you might need them.

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