Friday, 6 January 2012

Words you didn't know you didn't know

Back in 1983, my good friend John Lloyd and the late great Douglas Adams wrote a book called The Meaning of Liff in which they catalogued all of the things, feelings and situations that didn't have a word to describe them. The words they used were all UK placenames. Thus a BALDOCK (n.)became 'The sharp prong on the top of a tree stump where the tree has snapped off before being completely sawn through', and a PIMLICO (n.) became the 'Small odd-shaped piece of plastic or curious metal component found in the bottom of kitchen rummage drawer when spring-cleaning or looking for Sellotape.'

Well, the truth can sometimes be as strange as fiction. Here are some names of things that you may not have realised actually had names. Enjoy sharing them with bemused friends and colleagues.

Aglet - The plastic coating on the ends of shoelaces.
Akimbo – hands on hips or knees apart with feet together.
Armscye - the armhole in most clothing. 
Brannock Device - the machine that's used to measure your feet at the shoe shop.
Crepuscular Rays - rays of sunlight coming from a certain point in the sky.
Dysania - the state of finding it hard to get out of the bed in the morning.
Feat - a dangling piece of curly hair.
Ferrule - the metal part on a pencil that holds the eraser.
Gynecomastia - having man-boobs.
Lunule - the white, crescent shaped part at the top of a nail.
Morton's Toe - when your second toe is bigger than your big toe.
Muntin - the strip of wood/metal/PVC separating window panes.
Paresthesia - the pins and needles feeling you get when part of your body falls asleep. This is also known as obdormition.
Peen - the ball-shaped lump opposite the hammer's striking side. If it has a claw for pulling nails it's a Cow Hammer rather than a Ball Peen Hammer.
Petrichor - the smells outside after it has rained.
Purlicue - the space between the thumb and the forefingers.
Phosphenes - the lights you see when you close your eyes and press your hands to them.
Rectal Tenesmus - the feeling of incomplete defecation.
Semantic Satiation - what happens when you say a word for so long that it loses its meaning or sounds nonsensical. 
Skeuomorph - a design feature copied from a similar artifact in another material, even when not functionally necessary. For example, rivets on jeans, copper colour on pennies, the shutter sound on a digital camera, and the pointless handle on a tiny jug.
Tittle – the dot above a lower case letter i or j.
Wamble - stomach rumble.

Sadly, I can't remember where I found these. If you know please tell me. Meanwhile, any good new ones you'd care to add to the list?

The Meaning of Liff is still on sale. And there's this cheeky online version here.

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