Wunnerful Words

January 26, 2010

“Foyle’s Philavery” is one of my favourite books to thumb through.  The word philavery was specially invented by the author to describe his collection of words chosen simply on the grounds of their aesthetic appeal. 

These are words you roll around in your mouth to savour their succulent syllabic sweetness.  Words that inspire; that demand to be eased surreptiously into a conversation.  In no particular order, these are some words that I lust to play in Scrabble:



someone who is always grinning, especially foolishly and without reason

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 (in Venice) a type of shawl worn either over the head or over the shoulders

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dallying with girls, flirtation. 

~ A pleasingly suggestive term which has sadly fallen into disuse in modern times, although the concept certainly remains very much alive.  Flirtatious and womanizing men were known as ‘danglers’ and were particularly active at court and in high society. In an 18th-century letter, Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, writes to a lady friend bemoaning the dreariness of court life in the early years of the reign of George II: ‘Hampton Court is very different from the place you knew……Frizelation, flirtation and dangleation are now no more…..’

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 someone who walks or performs on ropes, eg a tightrope-walker.

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to look or store at longingly, especially at someone who is eating. 

~ A very uncommon old word which I was unable to find in any dictionary. This is an ancient art still widely and ably practised by pet dogs everywhere.

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crapulous or crapulent


1 drunk; suffering from sickness caused by overdrinking

2 resulting from intemperance

3 tending to indulge in alcohol

~ A wonderfully onomatopoeic word which sums up so perfectly the feelings with which many of us are so familiar after a period of over-indulgence. The word is derived via Latin crapula meaning ‘intoxication’, from Greek kraipale ‘drunken headache’. As such it is, perhaps surprisingly, unrelated to the origins of the word ‘crap’, which finds its origins in Middle English crappe ‘chaff’.

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a person in poor health; a hypochondriac


1 relating to or suffering from poor health

2 anxious about one’s health; hypochondriac

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1 a small drinking cup with a capacity believed to be about one eight of a pint (c.70 ml)

2 a measure of wine or beer, believed to have been about one eighth of a pint

3. any small quantity

~ The word is probably derived from German or Dutch nippen ‘to sip’.



having buttocks that are beautifully proportioned or finely developed

~ This pleasingly apposite and beautiful-sounding word is, appropriately enough, borrowed from an epithet of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and desire. Kallipygos, from kallos ‘beauty’ and pyge ‘buttock’, is one of the more charming sobriquets of the goddess – many others were applied to her, referring to her various habits, haunts and attributes, including Tymborychos ‘the grave digger’, Nikephoros ‘bringer of victory’ and Pandemos ‘lover of all people’. (Whether this final epithet refers to her position as goddess of love, or her famously abundant amorous exploits in unclear).

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irritable; quick-tempered; quarrelsome; cantankerous

~ The word is found in Scottish and Northern Irish usage and also, as ‘knaptious’ in Cumbrian dialect.

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patchwork quilting

Just a swatch of words from this delicious book.



  1. I like interesting words too. There’s a great website at http://www.urbandictionary.com that compiles up-to-the-minute slang and neologisms — usually good for a laugh or three!

  2. Are you familiar with “The Meaning of Liff” (and “The Deeper Meaning…”) by Douglas Adams? I think you’ll love it 🙂 It’s a dictionary for situations etc. that never had descriptors prior. It’s a little like “The Devil’s Dictionary” meets Adams’ special brand of quirk. Oh! There’s a website: http://folk.uio.no/alied/TMoL.html Enjoy!

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