01/14/2015 09:11 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Big Words Can Come in Small Packages

Thousands of terms in the great word hoard of English inevitably fall by the wayside, becoming forgotten or mere curiosities. Some people reflexively call any words not familiar to them "big words."

And others of us bristle at hearing what sounds like jargon. We often consider such English as language intended to impress or bewilder.

But unfamiliar words are just that, and those with more general meanings can be fascinating and certainly worth our attention. (The use of big words or love of a pretentiously arcane vocabulary is "lexiphanicism," by the way.)

We tend to think of big words as long, Latinate terms, such as "incommensurability" (the lacking of a basis for comparison), "supralapsarianism" (the theological doctrine that the decree of election preceded human creation and the Fall)," not to mention "megasyllabic" words like "floccinaucinihilipilification" (the estimating of a thing as worthless)--the latter celebrated as one of the longest words in the language.

But not all big words are a foot and a half long -- or (to use a big word for that) sesquipedalian. Thousands are relatively short -- if not downright stubby -- and include even one-syllable words.

Below we offer a 60-word list of big words, none of which contains more than three syllables (we've also excluded terms having very technical meanings).

The great majority of these words won't be found in your trusty collegiate dictionary, much less your spell-check (many do, however, show up in the Collins Scrabble Dictionary). They've been drawn primarily from older and larger lexicons published by Oxford, Merriam-Webster, and Funk and Wagnalls.

The terms below -- most of them rarely seen or heard today -- have meanings that are contemporarily relevant. Why not spread the word -- adopt a few and help get them back into circulation.

1. natiform: buttocks-like

2. anderun: harem

3. terete: torpedo-shaped

4. cortinate: cobweb-like

5. sinistral: on or to the left


6. squage: to dirty with handling

7. plat: building plot or lot

8. treen: made of wood; wooden

9. oculus: opening at the top of a dome

10. tucket: trumpet flourish or signal

11. riprap: broken stone

12. tootlish: muttering in a childish way

13. pingo: mound in permafrost terrain


14. vitative: loving life

15. ledgit: note or other slip of paper projecting from a book's pages

16. symphoric: accident-prone

17. maremma: swampy coastline

18. gleet: sticky, greasy, or slimy filth

19. quisquose: hard to deal with; ticklish

20. eoan: pertaining to dawn or the east

21. cruentous: bloody


22. muscid: pertaining to the housefly

23. crinkum: venereal disease

24. pandurate: fiddle- or violin-shaped

25. arles: money to bind a bargain; money up front

26. meline: pertaining to a badger or badgers

27. begrutten: having a face swollen from weeping

28. lentic: dwelling in still or slow-moving waters


29. xeres: sherry

30. ruderous: filled with garbage

31. storge: instinctive parental affection

32. vadelect: servant

33. indult: special privilege or license

34. forfex: scissors

35. palafitte: stilt house

36. col: saddle or pass between mountains

37. empasm: fragrant powder

stilt house

38. clou: center of attention; cynosure

39. trantles: things of little value

40. Ogygian: very old

41. benthic: pertaining to the ocean depths or bottom

42. bight: bay at a coastal bend

43. ashlar: hewn or squared masonry stone

44. darg: a day's work

45. roupy: low and throaty (voice)


46. allatrate: to bark like a dog

47. gyre: giant circular rotating system of ocean currents

48. caprylic: smelling like an animal

49. ocreate: wearing leggings or boots

50. preterist: one who lives in the past

51. staffage: details added to a painting

52. feak: dangling curl of hair

53. quoz: strange or absurd thing or person

54. lectual: confining to a bed (as a disease)

55. faex: sediment or dregs


56. secundate: to make prosperous

57. mimp: to purse one's lips

58. gravedo: head cold

59. thob: to rationalize one's opinions or beliefs

60. sphalm: an erroneous or mistaken belief or doctrine

David Grambs and Ellen S. Levine are the authors of The Describer’s Dictionary: A Treasury of Terms & Literary Quotations (Expanded Second Edition).


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