The Curious Word

The page that represents a love of words, their curiosities, and fascinating origins. Please do not look for anything erudite here–But esoteric? Yes.

I have loved words and their meanings ever since I was a little girl and I overheard my mother (when young a dancer by profession) remark to someone that she had always wanted to be an etymologist.

She of tapping feet and six children.

This was fascinating to me. I couldn’t imagine her wanting to be anything other than what she already was. But as learning to use a dictionary had been acquired almost as soon as walking, I looked it up.

I wanted to know what my mother truly wanted to be.

I inadvertently found entomology. (This is a common mix-up, as it turns out) Picturing my mom studying bugs–she who screamed at spiders–had me perplexed for quite some time.

What I did get from all that confusion, was actually the truth of the matter–a lifelong love of words and their origins.

As I grew older, I finally began to understand what an etymologist and romantic word lover would love. Things that my mother loved. This explained why we had dictionaries the size of a two door sedan. Many books on word origins. Why we had volumes of old poetry, and out of date encyclopedia sets in multiples. Books of aphorisms and witticisms from deep thinking crotchety old Scotch philosophers lined our shelves, because, well, that’s how Grandpa Duncan talked. In thundering oratory.

My mom was a tap dancer. She did a mean tango, too. And she raised six wordy children. Thanks, mom.

So here you’ll find an ongoing compendium. There is nothing professional about it. Just a casual interest; a collector’s delight. A dancer’s dream.




: relating to or producing knowledge or science
: having efficient knowledge : capable

This is a word that seems to be preferred by poets, and not as much by scientists, as you might think. An excerpt from Charles Lamb: Essays of Elia: Oxford in the Vacation.

‘What a place to be in is an old library! It seems as though all the souls of all the writers, that have bequeathed their labours to these Bodleians, were reposing here, as in some dormitory, or middle state. I do not want to handle, to profane the leaves, their winding-sheets. I could as soon dislodge a shade. I seem to inhale learning, walking amid their foliage; and the odour of their old moth-scented coverings is fragrant as the first bloom of those sciential apples which grew amid the happy orchard.’


A word unique to a particular piece of literature, and time period.

From Angela Thirkell’s August Folly:

“Aunt Palmer is really the outer limit,” [Laurence] said, “scrobbling your cook and then coming dinner.”

Scrobble: to waylay, kidnap, or steal: wiki

From the Thirkell PDF: scrobbling your cook: ‘scrobble is a word probably used by Lance, [Angela’s youngest son] who would have known John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk was published in 1927, though The Box of Delights was not published until 1935. Some readers will remember it on BBC Children’ s Hour in 1943, and later productions in 1948, 1978, and also on TV.’


Coined by John Milton, who was a prolific neologist. We might term him today as a nerdy word-meister.

He was also considered a brilliant linguist, as well as one of the finest poets of the English language. To state all of that with such firmness might give one the impression that I am highly opiniastrous. (opinionated)

Opiniastrous is one of his word creations that never made it into common usage. It might be useful however, seeing as it likely arose from being a fusion between ‘opined’ and ‘disastrous’, the latter being an apt description of what much of loudly touted opinionism results in.

Perambulate (and friends):

There are a host of lovely words that are related to perambulation:

ambulate = ‘to walk’, per = ‘all over’

amble (always seemed to be connected to aimless wanderings)

peregrinations; peregrinate; from Latin meaning essentially ‘wanderer of countries’ (considered now to be archaic or humorous)


peripatetic, peripatetically, peripateticism


Perhaps the most curious of all is pedestrianism. It means, simply, ‘fond of walking’, or ‘a walker’ but has also come to be known as boring, ordinary, the quality or state of being unimaginative or commonplace; lacking wit or imagination.

Yet so many of the innovative thinkers; philosophers, the poets, the great writers of days past, were also great walkers. Think Rousseau, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Kant…the list goes on and on…hardly pedestrian in their accomplishments.

It might seem that these could be described as :

Perambulant: strolling, rambling, and rambling so often gets us nowhere;

Rambling: (adj.)

(Of writing or speech) lengthy and confused or inconsequential.


long-winded, verbose, wordy, prolix;

digressive, maundering, roundabout, circuitous, tortuous, circumlocutory;

disconnected, disjointed, incoherent

At the risk of becoming pedantic, our next word is:

Pedantic: (adj.)

Excessively concerned with minor details or rules; overscrupulous:

pedantic (comparative more pedantic, superlative most pedantic)

Like a pedant, (wasn’t that a song?)

overly concerned with formal rules and trivial points of learning.

Being showy of one’s knowledge, often in a boring manner.

Being finicky or fastidious, especially with language.

I think I’ll stop now.


Extra notes from blog post Vibrant:

Info taken online from American Heritage Dictionary and my own copy of Origins, by Eric Partridge.

India European root weip
To turn, vacillate, tremble ecstatically.
Derivatives include wipe, whip, and vibrate.
O-grade form *woip‑. waif1, waif2, waive, waiver, from Anglo-Norman waif, ownerless property, from a Scandinavian source probably akin to Old Norse veif, waving thing, flag, from Germanic *waif‑.
Variant form *weib‑.
wipe, from Old English wīpian, to wipe;
guipure, from Old French guiper, to cover with silk;
whip, from Middle English wippen, to whip. a-c all from Germanic *wīpjan, to move back and forth.
Perhaps suffixed nasalized zero-grade form *wi-m-p-ila‑.
wimple, from Old English wimpel, covering for the neck (< “something that winds around”);
gimp1, guimpe, from Old High German wimpal, guimpe;
perhaps Middle Dutch wimmel, auger (< “that which turns in boring”) wimble.
Suffixed zero-grade variant form *wib-ro‑. vibrate, from Latin vibrāre, to vibrate.

Vibrant: Early 17th century (in the sense ‘moving rapidly, vibrating’): from Latin vibrant- ‘shaking to and fro‘, from the verb vibrare (see vibrate).

Related word wife, woman: weib, wief, wif
(extracted): the Germanic word for a woman apparently means either ‘the vibrator’ (IE) or ‘the veiled one’ (Old Germanic); Old Norse variant vision, meaning veiled one/veiled lady, to wave (as a veil does in the wind)


Well, here’s a lovely for you!

‘On wet rain-dark winter days, when the sheep-pens on the late root-land are still dreary with sludder and the grassland is sodden and lifeless, the birches in the wood down the land come most suddenly and wonderfully to life.’

This is a quote from H.E. Bates’ book Through the Woods. In it, he deliciously combines ‘sludder’ with sodden and lifeless, then rounding it with a brilliantly alliterative contrast of ‘suddenly and wonderful to life‘. (from blog post Winter Intermezzo)

‘Sludder’ is a forgotten word, and can hardly be found on google. My Eric Partridge was almost no help at all, (except to alert me to the exciting possibility of Middle English ‘sluchched‘. The search continues…safe to say it is archaic, and a simple contraction of the words for slush and mud, referring to a ‘slippery mass’ or combination of the two. Interesting variant, ‘sluther‘, which appears to be the verbiage form of this unappetizing mess–i.e. loose chatter, nonsense, rubbish, drivel and guff, or, like slush and mud, things that don’t hold together well and are best avoided altogether. Sludder, in either sense, is something to slog one’s way through. Possible antidotes include a shot of 12 year old Scotch, neat.


From Wild Apples: Thoreau just handed me another Curious Word. Grippling. Or simply gripple. It’s a lost, juicy, ‘spirited and racy’ wild apple of a word. According to Thoreau, it was a custom of apple gleaning that was practiced in days of yore in Herefordshire.

‘The custom of grippling, which may be called apple gleaning, is, or was formerly, practised in Herefordshire. It consists in leaving a few apples which are called gripples, on every tree, after the general gathering, for the boys who go with climbing poles and bags to collect them.’

Thoreau’s essay Wild Apples was published about 1862. Apparently his resource for this information, and quoted almost verbatim, was Plantæ Utiliores: Or Illustrations of Useful Plants, Employed in the Arts and Medicine, Volume 1, published 1842, and part of the Harvard Library where Thoreau researched)


pertaining to an equinox or the equinoxes, or to the equality of day and night.
pertaining to the celestial equator.
occurring at or about the time of an equinox.
Botany. (of a flower) opening regularly at a certain hour.

Oh, it’s that last one that really interests me!  One of my dreams is to plant a floral clock, along the lines of Stephen Linnaeus’ plan, his Horologium Florae. But he lived much farther north of the equator than do I, not to mention in a different century, so my equinoctial plants will be different than his. Stay tuned, as it will only take me a few years to complete this garden project…

12 thoughts on “The Curious Word

  1. love your dancer’s dream! I used to have this old dictionary that belonged to my grandmother – it was hefty, had this marone colour ( maroon, maroone, maroon… you know what i mean) and was entitled something like “The Webster English Dictionary” only it wasnt Webster, maybe Wilson.. Watson ( just kidding) but it did start with W….. I found all sorts of wondrous words in it and used to love nothing better than randomly opening that book and finding great and wonderful words, all ably annotated as to their origin…… thank you for reminding me of it! tumbling into you blog has made my morning! 🙂

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