Viscous \ˈvis-kəs\

adjective: having or characterized by viscosity

Yet another definition-by-hyperlink. Well, here’s viscosity:

: the quality or state of being viscous

Wait, what? Seriously? Well at least they also give us this:

: the property of resistance to flow in a fluid or semifluid

…or, to give me more what I want, I’ll just go ahead and take the definition:

: Having a thick, sticky consistency between solid and liquid; having a high viscosity.

Yes, that’s much better.

This is another of those editorial gems that I’ve picked up lately, and is probably my favorite I’ve yet seen: the author meant to write that a character was “vicious,” as in “horrible and mean and going to kill you”–but a slip of the hand resulted instead in “having a thick and sticky consistency.” Much better descriptor, in my book!

So, viscous. How to use it?

The substance was viscous like molasses, and as the thin string of goo reached its tendrils toward my brother’s neck, I wondered if I would soon regret what was about to happen…

Or, you could try:

I can’t stand regular pudding. Nope, give it to me nice and viscous–the closer to snot it looks, the better–or else I’m not touching it.

You know, on making these examples, I’m realizing that viscousis a word, like moist, that is near-impossible to use in a pleasant context. It’s really more in keeping with the sorts of words used to describe the sorts of things little boys tend to enjoy getting into messes with–though not by the boys themselves, of course, unless they happen to be little Shakespeares and Faulkners.

So, where did this come from? Well, it showed up in English around the 14th century, having come from Angl0-French roots,which I’m guessing has something to do with everyone who was anyone speaking French back then. Anyway, before that, it was Latinate, from viscosus (sticky) and viscum (anything sticky/birdlime made of mistletoe/anything made of mistletoe).

Sample 14th century dialogue:

That’s some pretty viscous birdlime you’ve got there, John!

Why thank you, Mary, I made it myself out of all the mistletoe out back. Only the most viscous viscum for our birds! Otherwise they get vicious!

*Shakes head at the absurdity*




Covey \ˈkə-vē\

noun: a mature bird or pair of birds with a brood of young; also : a small flock; Company, group

I’ve been editing a lot lately (hence the less-than-usual number of posts), and in my editing I’ve found some absolutely lovely words–not all of which were meant to be written. But, of course, that makes them all the more fun to find! The best kind of typo is an amazing-vocabulary-inducing typo–and such was covey.

Covey really is a lovely word–it even sounds lovely, like a pet name shared amongst friends. C’mon, coveys, let’s go! And that is actually a pretty good false use of this word–it’s indicative of a cozy little grouping of birds, or people, with a close relationship.

Aw, how sweet.

So, how to use it? How about:

The covey of friends never used their superpowers for evil, only for good.


Exploring my barn the other day, I found a covey of pigeons holed up in one of the rafters–I just hope the cat doesn’t find them!

So this wonderful word, where did it come from? It’s still pretty true to its original, literal, meaning, as it turns out–it was first used in the 14th century, back when everyone spoke Middle English and it meant “brood of partridges,” but before that it was French, covee (brood), and before that Gall-Romanic, cubata (hatchling), and before that Latin, cubare–to sit, incubate, or hatch.

So it’s always been a bird word. But one that’s definitely worth using! Whether or not it’s done intentionally.



Labyrinthine \-ˈrin(t)-thən; -ˈrin-ˌthīn, -ˌthēn\

adjective: of, relating to, affecting, or originating in the inner ear

Wait, what? No, that can’t be it, it’s got to come from labyrinth, the maze in Greek mythology where the Minotaur lived! Right?

A Minotaur. NOT to be messed with–also, probably pretty sensitive about his ears…

*Further searching*

Ah, of course. Why, oh why did you send me to a medical definition first, eh, Merriam-Webster? Anyway, here’s the right entry:

adjective: of, relating to, or resembling a labyrinth : intricate, involved

Now that’s the labyrinthine I was thinking of. Today (and most of the time recently, as my general failure to blog reveals), my thoughts were labyrinthine as they swirled around the labyrinthine process of choosing where my life goes next: always hard to see where the Minotaur is lurking.

Anyway. How to use this word? Well, try:

Alice wandered through the labyrinthine halls of the box store for hours, searching beneath sales racks and behind masses of empty boxes, only to find it–and realize she had left her coupons at home.

Or, perhaps:

In her years as a government employee, Jane had learned all the secrets to maneuvering the labyrinthine paperwork involved in getting stuff done–but when they started putting literal red tape everywhere, even she thought they’d gone too far, and a real Minotaur might be waiting for her around the bend.

Or, if you want to go medical:

Joseph’s labyrinthine infection was too much for him to stand.

Yep, that last one’s pretty boring. And probably used incorrectly, too–I’m no doctor, after all. Feel free to correct me if you are!

I’ve already tipped my hand as to where this word comes from originally, but here we go again. It was first used in the 1630s, (1632, if Merriam-Webster, linked above, is to be believed), and it came, not surprisingly, from the word labyrinth, which was itself first used in English in the 1400s. Oh, and it came from the Greek, or some proto-Greek language.

So just remember: whenever you say something’s labyrinthine, you’re implying that there’s a huge half-bull monster lurking somewhere in the maze of that something. Adds a bit more excitement than a mere “complicated,” don’t you think?




noun: variant form of caid

Why, always, with these epic words? OK, fine, then:


…and so descends the wall of subscription-requiring content. This word is quite slippery. Well, fine, then, Merriam-Webster, I’ll go elsewhere:

Caid /kɑˈið, kaɪð/

noun: (in North Africa) a Muslim tribal chief, judge, or senior official.

I’ll be honest: there is one and only one reason that I know this word, and it is Words with Friends. I’ll be even more honest: I don’t even really know it from there, or at least I didn’t before I took a wild stab in the dark with a Q and a potentially very high-scoring word (48 points, anyone?).

To use it? Well, use it in Scrabble. Or Words with Friends. Or Bananagrams. You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, you mean you still want examples? OK, hm, how about:

Who does he think he is, a qaid or something? Give a guy a hall monitor position, and it all just goes straight to his head.

Or…nope, that’s just about it. Don’t know that it’s really possible to get too creative with this one.

Things I’ve learned about this word: the Internet hates it. So, courtesy of Wiktionary, here’s the most I can tell you about its etymology: it’s Arabic. Yup, that’s about it.

So, the takeaway: place QAID in Scrabble! Get lots of points! And, bonus, actually have an answer when your word stickler friends say “What does that even mean?” Then, hope they don’t ask you to use it in a sentence.



Brobdingnagian \ˌbräb-diŋ-ˈna-gē-ən, -dig-ˈna-\

adjective: marked by tremendous size

My life just got so much better with the discovery of this Brobdingnagian word. And no, I’m not just saying “this (insert word) word,” I’m saying the word Brobdingnagian is, itself, Brobdingnagian, and that’s just amazing. Also, according to my oh-so-sophisticated-knowledge (*cough spell check cough*), Brobdingnagian must be capitalized to be correct. So, no, I’m not just copy-pasting it every time from the capitalized version because it’s faster than writing it. (Although…)

I’m absolutely positive I’m not the only one who discovered Brobdingnagian today. Why? Well, because I heard it from the inimitable Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) of The Big Bang Theory, which NBC was playing reruns of it for an hour in between local news and the start of the Olympics–an hour which just so happens to coincide with many peoples’ eat-dinner-in-front-of-the-TV time. And this scene happened. It was wonderful.

So, let’s get down to using this sucker!

The Brobdingnagian scale of the thing was jaw-dropping–who knew zits could get that big?


Staring up at the mountain, its Brobdingnagian glaciers miraculously stuck to its granite walls, I couldn’t help but feel a bit like a Lilliputian lost in the human world.

So where did this lovely world come from? Well, the same place as Lilliputian. (See what I did there?) Brobdingnagian, unlike many words, has an origin which is insanely easy to pin down: Gulliver’s Travels, 1728. It springs from Jonathan Swift’s invented word Brobdingnag, which he used to describe a land where everything was gigantic. Cool!

I have a feeling Brobdingnagian is going to have a Brobdingnagian impact on my vocabulary. And, most likely, on that of a good number of of NBC’s Olympics-viewing audience.



Finagle \fə-ˈnā-gəl\

transitive verb: to obtain by indirect or involved means; to obtain by trickery

intransitive verb: to use devious or dishonest methods to achieve one’s ends

This may be quite a dorky thing to admit, but I love that this can be either a transitive or intransitive verb. In other words, you can use it with a direct object, as in:

Toby finagled that coffee from Steve; don’t drink it!

Here, “that coffee” is the direct object of the sentence: Toby, the subject, “did” the verb, finagle, to it, so finaglehere functions as a transitive verb. It could be rewritten

Toby obtained the coffee from Steve by trickery; don’t drink it!” and the meaning would remain the same. Steve was just a passive victim of Toby’s finagling prowess. Compare that to:

Looks like Toby finagled  Steve out of his coffee. Let’s drink it!

The difference here–besides Steve’s suddenly much less sympathetic (or more coffee-crazed) friends, that is–is in the sentence structure: the verb is still finagle, but there is no direct object. Toby did not “obtain Steve by trickery,” he obtained the coffee by tricking Steve. Poor Steve was the victim again, but this time at least we get that outright: re-writing this sentence would look like

Looks like Toby tricked Steve out of his coffee. Let’s drink it!” which, while not nice, is at least correct.

Annnd look at that, I’m now using this blog as a platform for mini grammar lessons. Hm.

But let’s not forget about our lovely word, finagle! I can finagle my way into the Olympics (if only); I can finagle my dog into trying to catch a nonexistent ball; I can be finagled into voting for someone I don’t agree with. (But hopefully I won’t be.)

And then there’s the loveliness of its origin! I’m going younger and younger on my words, apparently; this one’s from 1924/1926, depending on your source, and comes from straight up American English! There are theories that it came from English dialect fainaigue, meaning to cheat at cards, or else figgle/fiddle, meaning to fidget.

Here’s hoping you don’t get finagledby anyone in the near future, and that you find new and exciting ways to finagle your way into new and exciting places! And, maybe don’t let anyone named Toby near your coffee. Especially if you’re named Steve.



Perspicuous  \pər-ˈspi-kyə-wəs\

Adjective: plain to the understanding especially because of clarity and precision of presentation

Up until now, the words I’ve posted have been favorites of mine, things I’ve thought of off-hand and thought would be wonderful to share with the world. Then there’s this word. I’m not gonna lie, when I first read this word (in the adverbial form) in Momma Be Thy Name’s recently Fresh-Pressed post, my first thought was that it was a snarky intentional mis-writing of “suspiciously”–but I wasn’t sure. So I looked it up.

And hey, look at that! Perspicuous! It’s a thing! And quite a cool one, too.  It’s like obvious or clear-cut or transparent. Only way more impressive sounding. Try these on for size:

No matter how hard she tried to hide it, it was perspicuous to all those watching that my niece had peed her pants.


Even with 5 years of language training, written Chinese has never become perspicuous to me.

And, in the apparent interest of having a new linguistic origin for each posting, this word comes from the 15th century, from the Latin perspicuus, meaning transparent or clear, and sharing a root perspicere with the word perspective.

I’ve never been gladder to get a new perspective on a faux suspicious. It’s so perspicuous to me now!





noun: variant of Hajj, Hajji

Hm. Okay, then:

Hajj \ˈhaj\

noun: the pilgrimage to Mecca prescribed as a religious duty for Muslims

I’ve been playing a lot of Words with Friends and Bananagrams lately, and let me tell you, when I get to play this word, I celebrate just a bit. Even if played without any bonuses, this word will grab you a cool 16 points in any Scrabble-type game.

But I digress.

I must say, one of my favorite things about the English language–though, admittedly, it is also one of the things that makes it so difficult for others to learn–is the many far-flung origins of its vocabulary. Erin, a good high school friend of mine, once described English as “a language that lurks in back alleyways, mugging other languages and rummaging through their pockets for spare vocabulary.” I quite agree–and see it as the best possible way for a language to function. How else would we end up with such a marvelous and Scrabble-friendly word as hadj?

So, how to use this word? Well, to copy a friend’s reply on a questionable Words with Friends play:

I just played the word “hadj.”

More seriously, though, I see no reason not to use this word as a synonym for pilgrimage. Maybe try using it like this:

Alison’s epic hadj ended at last, her need for ice cream finally satiated by the local Baskin Robbins.


I felt as if I had completed a hadj or something when I finally returned from abroad. I felt exhausted, of course, but also confirmed in my new path.

Or, of course, there’s the traditional sense of the word, which would look like this:

Tyler made his hadj last year, and was delayed on the way back–I was almost worried he wouldn’t make it back in time for the wedding!

However you use it, hadj‘s origins are both obvious and obtuse–it comes directly from the Arabic, but information on its date of origin in English is either unknown or unreported. And, apparently, this nifty word hasn’t only left its mark on English and Arabic–it’s also related to the Hebrew words haghagh (he made a pilgrimage) and hagh (gathering).

So apparently English isn’t the only language with sticky fingers–or, perhaps, a penchant for Scrabble.



Tomfoolery \ˌtäm-ˈfül-rē, -ˈfü-lə-\

noun: playful or foolish behavior

When I was college, my roommate and I became slightly obsessed with this word. She saw it in a movie at some point–for the life of me, I don’t know which one–and we decided that we should start each and every day by leaping out of bed and asking each other: “What sort of tomfoolery should we get into today?”

Sadly, this never actually happened. But! It could have.

So obviously, that’s one way to use tomfoolery. Here are a few more:

Their  tomfoolery finally reached such heights that I had to coax Raul off the roof with a sandwich, for fear he’d hurt himself. The things my husband will do for a sandwich…


Lisa had never liked clowns. Which is why, I suppose, she decided it would be a good idea to stand up in the middle of their performance and shout “I hate this stupid tomfoolery!” It’s just so unfortunate she happened to do this right as they started throwing the cream pies…


I’ve never understood why pool signs say “No running, no diving.” Why don’t they just say “No tomfoolery,” and be done with it?

Be careful how you use it, though; the word tomfoolery is pretty new, with a first usage around 1812, but the person form, tomfool, dates from the 1640s, and derives from the 14h century Middle English term Thom Foole, meaning an insane person. Not exactly PC.

Buuuut I’m guessing that since no one really knows that part, you can feel free to start calling your friends tomfools with no repercussions.

In any case, let the tomfoolery begin!



Swelter \ˈswel-tər\

1: (verb) to suffer, sweat, or be faint from heat

2: (noun) a state of oppressive heat

Coming off the heels of what was supposed to be the hottest day of Oregon’s summer yesterday, I couldn’t think of a better word than swelter to initiate this new blog. In particular, I like the noun form, which sees use much less frequently than its verb twin. But just imagine the possibilities of the noun swelter in your daily conversation!

You’ll often hear the verb form this way:

“It’s sweltering outside! I guess this is where all that global warming stuff comes from, huh?”

But how much better is it to see the noun form, like this:

The summer swelter was oppressive to Blaire, who wanted nothing more than to step outside without drowning in his own sweat.

Or, even better, like this:

The swelter of his gaze could have melted ice–or, in any case, made it dribble a little. I wanted nothing more than to talk to him, and I would have–had I not been wearing nothing but a clown wig and bikini.

And where did this wonderful word come from? It’s been in the English language since the 1400s, and comes from Old English sweltan, to die; that, in turn, came from the Proto-Germanic swel, to burn slowly.

Well that’s graphic.

So please, no more “This heat is killing me!” Who needs it, when you can say, essentially, “This heat is burning me slowly to death!” In other words–“This heat is sweltering!