26 favorite words from ‘Reading the OED’


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Ammon Shea’s book ‘Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages’ is out in paperback this week. Reading it is a wonderful tease -- wonderful because he’s pulled out some lovely words and their most interesting definitions, but a tease in that it’s not enough. Despite his problems with overwordiness and eye strain, I too want to read the OED.

But as I have other things I’m supposed to be doing this year, I’ll content myself with this vicarious read for now. And provide you with even a shorter, tasty tease: 26 favorite words from Shea’s collection.


Accismus -- An insincere refusal of a thing that is desired.
Bayard -- A person armed with the self-confidence of ignorance.
Compotation -- An episode of drinking or carousing together.
Debag -- To strip the pants from a person, either as a punishment or as a joke.
Exsibilation -- The act of hissing someone off the stage.
Fornale -- To spend one’s money before it has been earned.
Gaum -- To stare vapidly.
Happify -- To make happy.
Indread -- To feel secret dread.
Jentacular -- Of or pertaining to breakfast.
Kankedort -- An awkward situation or affair.
Lant -- To add urine to ale, in order to make it stronger.
Misdelight -- Pleasure in something wrong.

Mumpsimus -- A stubborn refusal to give up an archaism, especially in speech or language.
Nod-crafty -- ‘Given to nodding the head with an air of great wisdom.’
Occasionet -- A minor occasion.
Paradobre -- A defense against bores.
Peristeronic -- ‘Suggestive of pigeons.’
Quomodocunquinze -- To make money in any way possible.
Rapin -- An unruly art student.
Supersaliency -- ‘The leaping of the male for the act of copulation.’
Tardiloquent -- Talking slowly.
Umbriphilous -- Fond of the shade.
Vocabularian -- One who pays too much attention to words.
Wonderclout -- A thing that is showy but worthless.
Zoilus -- An envious critic.

You may have noticed that there were two P words and two M words, while X and Y were omitted. Shea only had a few to choose from, and they weren’t particularly exciting. I think he was getting tired. But that’s what happens when you hand a vocabularian the complete Oxford English Dictionary. Reading it, he warns, may not make you the life of the party.

You will not gain new friends through this kind of endeavor, nor will it help you in the workplace. At best you might bore your friends and employers, and at worst you will alienate them, or leave them thinking that there is something a little bit wrong with you.

But you won’t guam anymore. And, with a little luck, someday you’ll be able to slip ‘peristeronic’ into a sentence.

-- Carolyn Kellogg