50 Fantastic Facts About The English Language

This month, words and language Twitter account @HaggardHawks celebrated its second year online. Since December 2013, it has been providing a daily dose of rare and unusual words, surprising language facts, peculiar etymological stories, and all manner of other linguistic tidbits and trivia covering everything from abature (that's the trail of trampled grass left behind by a large animal) to zenzizenzizenzic (that's a number raised to its eighth power, or ((x²)²)²).

@HaggardHawks' second birthday has already been celebrated online with a fiendishly difficult quiz, but to mark the occasion all the more, here are 50 of its finest language facts and words worth remembering.

  1. Amplexation is a 17th century word for embracing someone.
  2. Posing a question for rhetorical effect and then answering it yourself is called anthypophora.
  3. A batrachomyomachy is a petty, pointless argument or quibble.
  4. Bung was Victorian slang for a teapot. A Bohemian bungery was a bar frequented by struggling writers and musicians.
  5. To calamistrate is to curl your hair.
  6. In 16th century English, a carpet-monger was a womanizing man.
  7. In 18th century English, a cockmedainty was an overly prim or fastidious person.
  8. Talking in code is called cryptolalia.
  9. The loose feathers that fall out of cushions and pillows are the culf.
  10. Drumbledrane is an old English word for a little bumblebee.
  11. Essence-peddler was a 19th century nickname for a skunk.
  12. Euthymy is a 17th century word for total tranquillity and peace of mind.
  13. Gangelwæfre is an Old English word for a spider. It literally means 'walking-weaver'.
  14. Gloffin is an old Scots English word for a short, disturbed sleep.
  15. Goostrumnoodle is a Cornish dialect word for a fool.
  16. To hanvayge is to wait around for someone to turn up...
  17. ...and hoozy-poozy is an 18th century word for anything idly done just to pass the time.
  18. A heautoscopy is a dream or hallucination in which a person imagines seeing their own body from a distance.
  19. A little heap is called a hipple.
  20. Shakespeare used the word housekeeper to mean 'guard dog'.
  21. If you're imberbic then you don't have a beard.
  22. Jottle is an old Scots English word meaning 'to achieve nothing despite looking busy'.
  23. Katagelophobia is the fear of being ridiculed.
  24. A group of kittens is called a kindle.
  25. A period of five years is called a lustre.
  26. In Victorian slang, a masterpiece of nightwork was a strikingly handsome criminal.
  27. To moonstomp is to dance heavy-footedly...
  28. ...and an orchestromaniac is someone who can't help but dance.
  29. A nephew was originally a grandson.
  30. To obnunciate is to announce bad news.
  31. A giraffe's horns are properly called ossicones.
  32. The human tendency to see faces and other images where none actually exists is called pareidolia.
  33. To be peneomnipotent is to be almost, but not quite, all-powerful.
  34. All the food you take on a picnic is called the picnickery.
  35. The paragraph symbol ¶ is properly called a pilcrow.
  36. A punchclod is someone who works a lowly or difficult, manual job.
  37. To puppilate is to scream like a peacock.
  38. To glocidate is to cluck like a hen
  39. The quick- of 'quicksilver' literally means 'living'.
  40. Roiderbanks is an old Yorkshire dialect word for someone who lives extravagantly or beyond their means.
  41. Sea-legs is the ability to walk around a ship in rough seas. Land-legs is the ability to walk on dry land afterwards.
  42. So-called because St. Anthony was the patron saint of swineherds, a St. Anthony pig is a mindless follower or fanatic, or a sponging companion.
  43. 'The sun is over the foreyard' is an old naval expression meaning 'it's time for a drink'.
  44. If you're an English speaker, roughly 6% of all the language you'll ever use will be just the word the.
  45. Thrimble is an old Yorkshire word meaning 'to toy with something in your fingers that you're reluctant to part with'.
  46. Your tongueshot is the distance within which you can be heard.
  47. A wag-feather is a cocky, swaggering young man.
  48. A willingness to entertain strangers is called xenodochy.
  49. The amount you can hold in your hands when you cup them together like a bowl is called the yepsen.
  50. Of the 5,000 commonest words in the English language, only zone begins with a Z.