25 interesting and amusing facts about common words

Have you always been logofascinated – fascinated by words? Do you one day dream of being described by as logodaedalus – someone who is cunning with words?

If so, you’ll enjoy Word Drops: A Sprinkling of Linguistic Curiosities, by Paul Anthony Jones, which contains 1,000 facts about words, language and etymology.


The book follows the success of Jones’s Twitter account @HaggardHawks, which Tweets strange and surprising facts about words and language.

Here are some of my favourites from the book:

  1. “A pedant was originally a schoolteacher.”
  2. Conundrum was originally an Oxford University nickname for a pedantic person.”
  3. “‘Four’ has four letters, it’s the only self-describing number in the English language. “
  4. “In Urdu, the same word, kal, is used to mean both ‘tomorrow’ and ‘yesterday’. “
  5. “Checkmate derives from shah-mat, the Arabic for ‘the King is dead’. “
  6. “An ale-knight is a drinking companion, or a habitual drunkard. “
  7. “A shot-log is an unwanted friend or drinking companion, whose company is only tolerated so that they can pay for a round for the rest of the group.”
  8. “Whisky derives from a Gaelic word, uisgebeatha, meaning ‘water of life’.”
  9. “Anyone who is crambazzled has aged prematurely through excessive drinking. “
  10. “The most commonly misspelled word in the English language is separate. A survey in 2010 found that separate – typically misspelled with an E in place of the first A – was the most troublesome word in the English language, seeing off competition from the likes of definitely in second place, and maoeuvre in third.”
  11. “The line separating the numbers in a fraction is called a vinculum. “
  12. “A moment is precisely a fortieth of an hour.”
  13. “A smidgen is precisely 1/32 of a teaspoon.”
  14. “The word run has 645 meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary.”
  15. “The Oxford English Dictionary defines a food coma as ‘a state of seep or extreme lethargy induced by the consumption of a large amount of food’.
  16. “As an example of how to use the word dull, Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary states, ‘to make dictionaries is dull work’.”
  17. Bumph, meaning ‘tiresome or pointless work’, is a military nickname for toilet paper. It’s shortened from ‘bum-fodder’.
  18. “The first recorded use of the acronym OMG dates from 1917. On 9 September 1917, at the height of the First World War, Admiral John Arbuthnt Fisher wrote to Winston Churchill, hen Minister for Munitions, to say that ‘I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis – O. M. G. (Oh! My! God!) – Shower it on the Admiralty!’.”
  19. “The French equivalent of LOL is MDR. It stands for mort de rire, or ‘dead with laughing’.”
  20. “In Ancient Greece, an idiot was someone with no interest in politics.”
  21. Tory derives from an Irish word for ‘outlaw’.
  22. “The act of trimming or shaving a beard is pogonotmy. The process of growing a beard is pogonotrophy. A treatsie written on the subject of beards is a pogonology.”
  23. “Typewriter is one of the longest words that can be spelled using only the tp row of keys on a qwerty keyboard.”
  24. “A string of random symbols and punctuation marks used to censor swearwords – like ‘f@#?!’ – is called a grawlix.”
  25. “The dot above a lower case i or j is called a tittle.”
  26. “Octothorp is an alterative name for the hash sign #.”
  27. “The N of PIN stands for ‘number’.”
  28. “The German word kummerspeck means ‘excess weight gained through comfort eating’. It literally means ‘grief-bacon’.”

One comment

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