Lost and Found: 11 Lost English Words That Deserve a Comeback
Living languages are constantly evolving because the words human beings use are constantly evolving. New words enter the English language and old words fall by the wayside, but looking at lost words can give us a mini history lesson.
Of course, no word that appears on a list like this can be truly lost, or we could have never found it. Just for fun, let’s take a walk down memory lane with these ten obscure English words that deserve a comeback in 2020.
What do you get when you combine “Nike”—the Greek goddess of victory (and apparently, the patron saint of running shoes)—and “Hedone” the Greek word meaning “pleasure?” Nikhedonia, obviously.
This word means the feeling of excitement or elation that comes over you when you anticipate success.
For example, you’re playing a friendly game of Chess and suddenly realize the moves you need to make to checkmate your opponent. Or suppose you’re watching your favorite football team play a close game against their big rivals and at the end of the game you see they’re about to kick the winning field goal. That’s nikhedonia.
How many times have you wished you had a word to describe the “pins and needles,” tingly feeling you get in your foot when it’s asleep or in the tips of your fingers when they’re cold? Well, wish no more. That’s gwenders.
This word belongs to an English dialect used in Cornwall in the 1800s. It comes from the Welsh “gwynrew,” meaning numbness from the cold. Also, the first recorded usage of the word shows up in a book on the military history of Cornwall. Having “gwenders” in your fingers does seem like something that soldiers in combat during the winter are likely familiar with.
If you’ve ever packed up your belongings and moved to a new house, you know all about huckmuck. This is a lovely Old English word for the confusion that comes from things not being in their proper places. You might want to find a personal organizer to help you sift through the huckmuck.
This refers to a sudden, passing shudder of emotion or excitement. Do you know the feeling of goosebumps or chills you get when you’re engrossed in a thrilling action film or when you hear a beautiful piece of music? Scientists actually study this phenomenon and refer to the psychophysiological response to a pleasurable auditory or visual experience as frisson.
You may recognize the root of this word “fri-,” as in “refrigerator” or “friction.” Frisson originates from the Latin “frictio,” meaning to shiver and it’s a derivative of “frigere,” meaning to be cold.
You are probably familiar with a related term, “amnesia,” which means a sudden loss of memory after a concussion, for instance. Hypermnesia refers to just the opposite—someone with an exceptional memory.
Hypermnesia comes from the Ancient Greek “hyper,” meaning above or beyond and “mnēmē,” meaning memory. So, do you have hypermnesia or are you always forgetting people’s names?
This admittedly, old-timey sounding word is a real blast from the past. There must have been a real snollygoster epidemic during the 1940s and 1950s because the word was everywhere. It might not sound so sophisticated, but we think you’ll agree that it’s an appropriate word to describe its subject.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a snollygoster is a shrewd, unprincipled person, especially a politician. The origin of the word is unknown, though it may have come from the German “schnelle geister,” meaning quick spirit.
In the U.S., snollygoster faded into obscurity around World War I, but resurfaced during President Harry S. Truman’s 1952 reelection campaign. In a memoir, Ken Hechler. a White House assistant during Truman’s presidency, talks about a speech Truman gave at the Parkersburg, West Virginia, railroad station. The president asked Hechler for a Bible, then quickly found a passage about the “hypocrites” who “love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets.” Hechler goes on:
Then he…read the Bible passage to his Parkersburg audience, adding that his grandfather used to tell him that when you heard someone praying loudly in public, “you had better go home and lock your smokehouse.” Then Truman sent reporters scurrying to their dictionaries when he denounced Republican “snollygosters.” He turned to the puzzled press corps, chewing their pencils at trainside, and quipped, “Better look that word up, it’s a good one.”
If your friend is broke and unemployed, he may resort to taking every odd job he can find and hustling like mad, or he may decide to try a less licit means of making money. That’s quomodocunquize—making money in any way you possibly can.
You can try, but you probably won’t find a better phrase using this word than this one by Sir Thomas Urquhart in 1652: “Those quomodocunquizing clusterfists and rapacious varlets.” Wow!
This is a brilliant word that essentially means the same as another fun word, “nonchalance.” Sprezzatura, though, is more specific. It refers to the effort you put in to look like you’re not making an effort. You know. It’s like when you try to create “beachy waves” in your hair without going to the beach. Ridiculous, but brilliant, all at the same time.
It’s so much fun to say this word out loud. Give it a try! So what does it mean? Wamblecropt refers to how you feel when you are overcome with indigestion. Back in the day, you might have noticed your stomach wambling a bit. If the wambles got bad enough that you couldn’t move, you were wamblecropt.
If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, you’ve probably encountered some gongoozlers. To gongoozle is to gaze at activity taking place on a canal or waterway. It’s also used to describe those who harbour an interest in canals and canal living, but do not actively participate.
Gongoozling is kind of like ogling, but somewhat oddly specific to canals. Now that you know the word, you’ll probably notice gongoozlers everywhere—walking along the riverbank, on the beach, strolling around your neighborhood pond on a sunny afternoon. You, yourself, have probably been gongoozling for years without even realizing it.
Yes, this one sounds like a Dr. Seuss word, for sure—we’re betting the Sneeches and the Snudges all hang out together somewhere. Seriously though, to snudge is to stride around as if you are terribly busy, when in fact you are doing nothing. Sounds about right.
The next time you hear the manager at your favorite fast food restaurant tell an employee, “if you have time to lean, you have time to clean,” let them know about this word. Those who are really adept at this can snudge around all day under the boss’s radar.