As long as I can remember, I’ve had a love of the English language. I think it comes from my father. Whenever I came across unusual words, he would treat it as an adventure of sorts.

Look it up’, he’d say, all the while giving me clues as to the meaning of the word. Now, when I don’t know what a word means, I can hear my late father’s words in my ear and I’ll look up the word in question. Some of my favourite words include loquacious (talkative), pulchritude (physical beauty), and bucolic (pleasant countryside).

Here are some unusual words in English. You may already know what they mean, or, like me, you might be surprised.

22 Unusual Words That Will Upgrade Your Vocabulary

  1. Acnestis

No, this isn’t associated with spotty teenagers. In fact, we’ve all suffered from a spot of acnestis at some point in our lives. It’s the part of the back between the shoulders that you can’t reach to scratch.

  1. Agastopia

This is one of those unusual words that looks as if it means one thing but in actual fact, means the opposite. When we’re aghast at something, we’re horrified. However, this word means a fascination or love of a particular part of the human body.

  1. Clinomania

I often have clinomania, especially in the morning as I’m a bit of a night owl and struggle to get up. If you haven’t already guessed, clinomania means an overriding desire to stay in bed because you love sleeping.

  1. Cromulent

When I first saw this word, I thought it sounded like a cross between one of those New York bakery mash-ups. You know the one I mean, the cronut. However, while you might not find it in a dictionary, it first appeared in an episode of the Simpsons’ and means adequate or fine.

  1. Defenestration

Defenestration comes from the French word for window ‘la fenêtre’ and means to throw out of a window. Defenestration was first thought to be used to describe events in Prague, 1618, when angry Protestants threw out two Catholic officials from a window, leading to the Thirty Years’ War.

  1. Evancalous

Have you ever cuddled up to your partner and thought to yourself, ‘This feels so nice I could stay here forever’? That’s exactly what evancalous means. It means something that is pleasant to embrace. Just don’t ask me to tell you how to use it in a sentence!

  1. Halfpace

Now, this is one of those unusual words that owners of certain types of houses might know. It is a small landing in a house where you have to turn at some point to walk up another set of stairs.

  1. Hiraeth

This is a beautiful Welsh word that will resonate with millions of refugees across the world. It means feeling homesick for a home you can never go back to.

I am homesick for a place I am not sure even exists. One where my heart is full. My body loved. And my soul understood.

  1. Incandescence

Now I always thought that incandescence meant light from a certain source, like a candle. But in actual fact, it is the particular light that is produced from extremely high temperatures.

  1. Ineffable

I think that in my head I must have confused this word with affable and thought it must have something to do with being pleasant. Actually, it means indescribable or beyond words.

  1. Jentacular

Are you the sort of person that likes to eat breakfast as soon as you get out of bed? This is an unusual word and not much used these days, but it pertains to breakfast and comes from the Latin word jentaculum, meaning breakfast.

  1. Kakorrhaphiophobia

Lord only knows how to pronounce this unusual word, but thanks to the ending, we already know it is a fear of something. It is an all-consuming fear of failure.

  1. Limerence

This isn’t some kind of Irish poetry, although you could use the word in a sonnet or two. It means a person’s state of mind resulting from a romantic infatuation including fantasies and obsessive thoughts about forming a relationship.

  1. Meritocracy

If only all governments were meritocracies, I’m sure we’d see better decisions in the long run. Why? Because meritocracy is a society governed by people elected by their experience and ability.

  1. Nudiustertian

It’s up to you to decide whether it is easier to say ‘the day before yesterday’ or ‘nudiustertian’. It is an Armenian word that simply means two days ago.

  1. Petrichor

If you are one of those people that go outside after a thunderstorm and breathe in the air, then you love petrichor. Petrichor is that metallic, earthy smell left after the rain.

  1. Phosphenes

You might think that phosphenes are some sort of chemical you find in food additives, but the truth is stranger than that. They are the light or coloured spots you produce in your eyes when you put pressure on them. For example, when you rub them when you’re tired.

  1. Pluviophile

Word lovers know that any word ending with ‘phile’ means a lover of, and ‘pluvio’ relates to rain. So a pluviophile is someone who loves the rain.

Pluviophile word of the day

  1. Sonder

I love this word because I didn’t realise there was a word for the feeling I got occasionally. Sonder is realising that everyone, including random strangers in the street, is leading as full and complex lives as you are.

  1. Tittynope

Ooh, matron! Don’t worry. This isn’t some leftover phrase from the Victorian era to describe a saucy barmaid with a buxom offering. In fact, it’s far more commonplace and ordinary. Tittynopes are the leftovers of a meal or a snack. The last drops left in a glass, or the few crumbs of a cake, a couple of beans left on a plate.

  1. Ulotrichous

Some women pay a lot of money to be ulotrichous whereas others pay a lot not to be. You may have guessed from the ‘tricho’ part of the word that it refers to hair in some way and you’d be right. Ulotrichous means people who have curly hair.

  1. Xertz

This is a great word to remember for any word game where you have an x and a z left to play. It means to gulp something down quickly and is pronounced ‘zerts’.

Do You Know Any More Unusual Words?

Well, those are my favourite unusual words, for now anyway! If you have some, I’d love to hear them!



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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Deborah

    I love words too. One suggestion: Perhaps next time include a phonetic spelling for each, as you did for xertz. Thank you for this fun article.

    1. Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

      You’re very welcome Deborah and it’s a good suggestion. I will include a phonetic spelling next time.
      I’m currently working on word origins for everyday words so I hope you enjoy that article when it’s published.

  2. Victor E

    More suggestier:

    Add a link to an audible pronunciation button for those not phonically fluent

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