Beyond Beowulf: Q&A with Hana Videen, author of The Wordhord

Cover of The Wordhord

Hwæt the heck?

Old English is fundamental to the language we speak every day, yet few people outside medievalists and literature scholars know very much about it. Hana Videen is here to change that: in 2013, she started the Wordhord twitter account, posting one Old English word a day. She’s since expanded her efforts: the Old English Wordhord now encompasses a blog, an instagram account, and now a book.

The Wordhord, out this week, is an accessible and engaging lexicon of the language that would become English. Dr. Videen spoke with us about her favorite OE words, Medieval twitter, and how she put together the hord.

Are there any particularly frustrating myths and misconceptions that contemporary English speakers have about Old English? If there were one misconception you could correct, what would it be?

Old English is not Shakespeare … or Chaucer! It’s much older: the language spoken in what’s now England between the mid sixth to the mid twelfth centuries. It looks so much different from the English we know today. For instance, the first lines of Beowulf are:

Hwæt! We gardena in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon…

It’s essentially a foreign language even to fluent modern English speakers. Despite this, it can sometimes look very familiar – Hana is min nama, for instance, looks very much like “Hana is my name.”

Also, the language is Old English, not “Anglo-Saxon”, as it has sometimes been called in the past. And the people who spoke it were englisc, or people of early medieval England. The term “Anglo-Saxon” was rarely used by the people of early medieval England to refer to themselves. “Anglo-Saxon” became popular in the nineteenth century alongside an imperialist, racist concept of a “noble Anglo-Saxon race” destined to conquer the world. Today it’s defended as a neutral and historical term – but it’s not.

Can you talk a little bit about your process selecting Old English “gems” for your Wordhord? Are there any words or categories of words that you wish you could have included?

For the words in The Wordhord I began by going through the “favorites” category on my blog. (These are my favorites – I changed the category to “hord highlights” after the Old English Wordhord app was launched, since people can favorite their own selection of words and that got confusing.) Then I thought about how I might group them in chapters within a book. I eventually decided to have each chapter focus on a different aspect of daily life: eating and drinking, religion, traveling, learning and working, etc. While I wrote the book, I came across other words that were related to the historical content. For instance, heorþ wasn’t in my hoard until I started researching and writing about how to make bread in early medieval England.

There are lots of other words that didn’t make the book, but there is a second book coming! It will focus on animals and animal words.

The Wordhord started as a Word of the Day Twitter account, which is not just a worthy follow but part of an enthusiastic and wonderfully amusing community of Medievalists on twitter. What are some of your favorite Medievalist Twitter accounts? Do you think there’s a particular appeal that Medieval words, art, and culture has to an internet audience?

For medieval manuscript images there are @BLMedieval, @MarginaliaMS, @discarding_imgs, @red_loeb, @melibeus1, @sims_mss, and many others. If you want more Old English content, there are @digitalmappa and @thijsporck. @Medievalists shares articles on a lot of different topics. And there are many scholars on Twitter who share their fascinating work – the best way to find them is using the hashtag #medievaltwitter.

I think that people have been fascinated by the Middle Ages for a long time and that the internet has just provided another way to enjoy learning about this period. And because more libraries are digitizing and sharing their manuscripts, there’s a lot more material available to look at, even without a library membership.

Lots of people’s knowledge of OE begins and ends with Beowulf—where should people start if they want to read more? What do you recommend for the curious (but not necessarily scholarly) reader?

The Word Exchange is a book of Old English poems in translation with each poem translated by a different poet, so that gives you some nice variety. The tenth-century Exeter Book riddles are fascinating (and often humorous), and these are on, with translations, commentaries and proposed solutions. (The Exeter Book gives no solutions, so scholars can only make guesses.)

What Old English words do you wish would make a comeback?

There are a couple of animal words that I just love. Hreaðe-mus literally means “adorned mouse” and it is Old English for bat (a mouse adorned with wings). Gongel-wæfre literally means “walking-weaver” and it’s an Old English word for a spider.

There are also words that describe things so well that I wish we still used. Uht-cearu is pre-dawn anxiety, the worries that keep you awake at three AM. A morgen-drenc (meaning “morning-drink”) has healing (perhaps even magical) properties, which I think is a great way to describe coffee.

How can you get the Old English word of the day?

You can subscribe for daily emails at or follow @OEWordhord (Twitter), @oewordhord (Facebook) and @oldenglishwordhord (Instagram). And if you have an iOS device you can download the free Old English Wordhord app (

Introducing LEXICON LUNACY 2022!

The month of March is upon us, and with it its attendant madness. College basketball is all well and good, but here at Wordnik we’ll be celebrating the first ever LEXICON LUNACY.

Lexicon Lunacy logoHere’s how it works: 

We’ve taken the 32 most-loved words from 2021 and bracketized them into a single-elimination tournament. Every day this month, you can vote to decide which word goes on to the next round and, eventually, which word will end up the winner.

Some initial observations: 

  • The bracket consists of 18 adjectives, 11 nouns, and two verbs. One word, tatterdemalion, is both a noun and an adjective. 
  • 7 out of the 32 words end in -ous. 
  • Two have also been Wordnik words of the day (ubiquitous on 2011-08-26 and 
  • vespertine on 2016-08-16)
  • The three words with the highest Scrabble scores are conjecture, obsequious, and ubiquitous (tied for 21); the word with the lowest score is susurrus, at 8
  • The word sanguine is included in 538 Wordnik lists; the word accoucheur is on only 16

Head over to Twitter to learn more about the words and vote! 

round two bracket

Eye on the Hog! Nine of our Favorite Winter Olympics Words

opening ceremony of the XXIV Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

CC BY-4.0, via Wikimedia

The 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing wraps up today. Over the past two weeks, we’ve watched athletes and teams from 91 nations skate, ski, and sleigh their way to Olympic glory (including 25 medals for Team USA!) and learned plenty of new words in the process. Here, our nine favorite Winter Olympics terms and their origins:


Unlike spins, which are stationary, twizzles require rotation while moving across the ice. The synchronized twizzle is one of the most fundamental, and difficult, parts of ice dancing, and definitely the most fun to say. 

Kiss & Cry

The term kiss & cry was coined by Finnish figure skating official Jane Erkko, who popularized the sport in Finland in the 1980s. It’s since been expanded to other sporting events to mean any area where competitors wait to receive their scores. 

Death Spirals

Unlike in aviation, insurance, or life in general, death spirals in figure skating can—if executed correctly—be a good thing. The death spiral is an element of pairs figure skating in which the man, in a low pivot position, rotates the woman low to the ice. The name was apparently inspired by the popularity of air show stunts in the 1920s.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates - 2019 Internationaux de France

CC BY-SA 3.0. By David Carmichael, via Wikimedia


The axel, one of the seven types of jump in figure skating, has nothing to do with the type of axle around which a wheel rotates; it’s actually an eponym, named after Norwegian figure skater Axel Paulsen. 


Bobsledding, or Bobsleigh, has been a part of the winter Olympic games since their inception in 1924. Unlike with axel, there is no eponymous “Bob”: the sport gets its name from the way early participants bobbed back and forth to increase speed. 


Bobsledding is traditionally performed with teams of either two or four. A one-person bobsled is charmingly deemed a monobob, which is also the name of the newest Winter Olympic sport. Women’s monobob debuted at the 2022 Olympics, where Americans Kaillie Humphreys and Elana Meyers Taylor took the gold and silver, respectively. 


Skeleton involves going headfirst down an ice track on a sled, unlike its sister sport luge, where competitors go feet first. The term skeleton is of uncertain origin: some say it takes its name from the bony appearance of the early metal sleds, while others think it might be a mistransliteration of the Norwegian word kjaelke, meaning toboggan or sled. 

Hog line

Watch a game of curling, and you’ll notice a lot of hog terminology: the hog line is the line by which players have to release the stone. If a rock is hogged, it’s taken out of play. Since the early 2000s, hog line violations have been enforced by an electronic sensor called “eye on the hog.”

Why all the porcine language? According to, the phrase derives from Scottish agriculture, where straggling baby lambs and other livestock were called hogs. 


From 1912 to 1992, Olympic Games included demonstration sports: non-medal events meant to popularize new or underappreciated sports with the goal of their eventual inclusion in the Olympics. Some sports, like ice dancing, speed skating, and curling, became full-fledged Winter Olympic events.

One that didn’t is skijoring, a sport that involves skiers being drawn over ice by dogs, vehicles, or—in the case of the Olympic demonstration—horses. Skijoring, which has its roots in Scandinavia, debuted at the 1928 Winter games in St. Moritz, but never returned as a demonstration or medal sport.

"Skijoring": people on skis pulled by a horse, dogs or a motor vehicle. Saint-Moritz, 1928.

Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Got a favorite winter sports word that we missed? Let us know on Twitter!

Five Words From … Matrix, by Lauren Groff

Welcome to the latest installment of “Five words from …” our series which highlights interesting words from interesting books! 

The hottest Matrix of 2021 had nothing to do with white rabbits, red pills, or Keanu Reeves. This Matrix, Lauren Groff’s latest novel, tells the story of Marie de France as she progresses from ungainly orphan to powerful abbess in 12th-century England.  

Folium 028v from the Psalter of Eleanor of Aquitaine (ca. 1185) from the collection of the Royal Library of the Netherlands. The illumination shows Donor portrait - A noble lady kneeling.

Public domain – via Wikimedia


“The coleworts are the size of three-month babies.”

Colewort, or cole, is the medieval ancestor of the Brassica oleracea species of vegetables, which today encompasses cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, and brussels sprouts. Although the colewort of the twelfth century was smaller and more loose-leafed than its contemporary cultivars, it survives today in the word coleslaw



“Temporale, the proper of time, the cycle of Christmas, the cycle of Easter. Sanctorale, the proper of the saints.” 

Proper as a noun (not to be confused with a proper noun) is an ecclesiastical term that refers to the Catholic liturgical calendar: the proper is the portion of the liturgy that corresponds to each season or occasion. The Temporale is the proper of time because it consists of moveable feasts like Easter; the Sanctorale is the cycle of holy days with fixed dates, like Saints’ days and Christmas.



“Marie has become a great old monocerous. Hide of iron, single vicious horn, or so she hears.”

Monocerous (more commonly spelled monoceros or monocerus) comes from the Greek roots “monos”, single, and “keros,” horn, making it an etymological sibling to unicorn, which has the same roots, but in Latin. Depending on the context, monocerous can either be a synonym of unicorn or refer to a similar, but related creature. Monocerous far predates its Latin synonym, though: the creature is mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, where he described it as having “the head of the stag, the feet of the elephant, and the tail of the boar… and has a single black horn, which projects from the middle of its forehead, two cubits in length.” 

Today, the word survives in the scientific name for the narwhal, Monodon monoceros. 

Monoceros - Bestiary Harley MS 3244, ff 36r-71v. Late 12th century-Early 13th century.

Public domain – via Wikimedia


“The abbess is not unlike a freemartin, that strange genre of virago ox not one thing or the other but both at the same time.”

Groff uses the word virago several times to describe her protagonist, including in Marie’s own thoughts of herself. Virago, literally a woman who behaves like or has the bearing of a man, comes from the Latin root vir, meaning man, from which we also get virile and virtue. The connotation of the word has changed over time: in ancient and early medieval contexts it would have meant a strong female warrior, but by the late middle ages it came to mean a harsh, unattractive and scolding woman.  

The novel gives us a little bit of both senses: it’s negative when Marie reflects self-deprecatingly on her own appearance, but a backhanded compliment when the diocesan addresses her as a “noble virago … exalted above all other exemplars of your sex.” It’s part of the deliberate contradiction that the novel explores: Marie’s self-professed “mannish” nature is the very quality that allows her to attain a position of power from which she can uplift other women. 



“Without the first matrix, there could be no salvatrix, the greatest matrix of all.” 

One thing you notice in reading Matrix is all of the words ending in -trix or -rix: cantrix, cellatrix, infirmatrix, hostellerix, scrutatrix, and so on. Each of these words, along with a host of -ess words like almoness and prioress, describes a position in the abbey. Groff never lets the reader forget that each of these roles is performed by women. 

The word matrix is itself a -trix word, from the same Latin root that gives us mother. In the novel, it’s used in (at least) two senses: as a personalized seal for inscribing books, and, in the sentence above,  as a now-obscure word for womb. 


Bonus: alaunt, spavin, mizzling, and a list of 77 other Matrix words here


Got a book you’d like to see given the “five words from” treatment?   Nominate it through this form, or DM us on Twitter!

The Wordnik 2021 Gift Guide for Word Lovers

Wondering what to get this year for the logophile in your life? Here’s a list of books, games, art, and other goodies for word nerds of all ages. 

Adopt a word

What better gift for a word lover than… a word? For $25, you can adopt a word—(almost) any word—in someone’s honor. The recipient will receive a certificate, Wordnik stickers, and other perks, and the money goes toward supporting Wordnik. Wordnik, $25.

Calligraphy Prints

Fans of illumination and typography will be impressed by these prints from the Public Domain Review that feature beautifully rendered letters, such as selections from Joris Hofnagel’s “Guide to the Construction of Letters” or the 18th century satirical “Alphabet de la Bourbonnoise.”  Public Domain Review, $25.00 and up.

Left: Guide for Constructing the Letter R (Joris Hoefnagel, ca. 1595) /Right: Bourbonnoise Alphabet (Unknown, 1789)

Public Domain Review

Heck Yeah, Descriptivism!

Lingthusiasm has a great selection of linguistics-themed merchandise, including kiki/bouba t-shirts, schwa pins, and everything IPA. We’re partial to these zippered pouches that “push back against language peevery.” Redbubble, $15.89

"Heck Yeah Descriptivism!" Pouch in white on green

Designed and sold by Lingthusiasm. RedBubble

Ideal Bookshelf Pins

These enamel pins by Jane Mount feature hand-drawn book covers you can display on your lapel, with dozens of classics from Middlemarch to Infinite Jest rendered in delightful miniature. Etsy, $11.

Book Pin: A Wrinkle in Time

Janemount on Etsy

Dictionary Subscriptions

Why not supplement the Wordnik experience with a subscription to a specialized dictionary, such as DARE, the Dictionary of American Regional English ($49/year)?

826 Merchandise

826 is a nonprofit that provides writing workshops and after-school tutoring to communities in nine cities across the US. Each location also doubles as an imaginative retail store, which means you can get vintage-inspired posters ($19.99) from LA’s Time Travel Mart, cans of antimatter ($8.00) from the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, or an eyepatch ($5.00)and doubloons ($0.75 each) from the Valencia Pirate Supply Store. All proceeds from these shops go to support 826.  

Time Travel Posters: Pangaea (Left) and Tokyo 2.0 (Right).

Time Travel Mart,


Litographs take the full text of a book and make it into word art in the form of posters, blankets, jigsaw puzzles, shower curtains, and more. It’s a cool way to show off your love of literature, plus a guarantee you’ll never be bored in the shower again., $24-$74.  



Originally created through the NYU Game Center Incubator and funded through Kickstarter, Rewordable is a “uniquely fragmented” card game in which players arrange letter combinations to build increasingly longer and more complex words. It’s a great way for kids to build their vocabularies and linguistic skills, or for adults to flex theirs. Barnes & Noble, $15.99.

Rewordable game


Scrabble Fridge Magnets

If the word-lover in your life prefers word gaming at a more leisurely pace, these magnets are a fun twist on the classic fridge poetry formula. Etsy, $20.09-$33.26.

Wooden Scrabble letter fridge magnets by MagnificentMagnetsUK



There are just too many books to list—word lovers tend to like books, after all—but we’re making an attempt with our lists. There’s one for word lovers and an even-more-specific list for folks who love dictionaries. Check them out!

Wordnik Swag

Who wouldn’t want a t-shirt – or a tote bag, or a notebook, or a throw pillow – that says “I 🧡 words?” 

We also have a limited number of the Wordnik Kickstarter poster left—US$40, including Priority Mail shipping (to US only). Language is the Dress of Thought poster Get them while you can, as we won’t be reprinting these!

To Arrakis and Beyond: The Language of Dune

Dune, CC-BY 2.0 Shawn Allen

The fictional universe of Frank Herbert’s Dune saga is incredibly expansive, with each book in the series accompanied by a glossary of more than 100 terms. With the release of Denis Villeneuve’s latest film adaptation, some moviegoers have set to frantic Googling, desperate to tell their sardaukar from their shai-hulud. Herbert dug into a deep well of far-ranging influences, especially from the Muslim world, in creating the language and mythology of the Dune-iverse; here, we dig into some Dune words and their unusual origins.



Dune’s most obvious etymological influences are from Arabic, with Herbert drawing inspiration not just from the language but from the history of Islam and the geography of the Arabian peninsula. Dozens of terms from the books and movies are borrowed wholesale from classical and colloquial Arabic; dozens more are loosely adapted from Arabic words and phrases. Blogger Khalid Baheyeldin has attempted to catalogue all the Islamic and Arabic influenced words in Dune; Herbert himself spoke at length about the saga’s Islamic influences in a 1978 interview.

In particular, the language of the Fremen, the natives of the desert planet Arrakis, borrows heavily from Arabic. For example, Muad-dib is the Fremen name that protagonist and eventual messiah figure Paul Atreides chooses for himself. In the Fremen language, muad-dib is a type of desert mouse (and also a constellation shaped like the mouse – as with so many elements and symbols in Dune, it’s complicated). In modern Arabic, muad’dib (مؤدب) means ‘teacher’.


Lisan al-Gaib 

Lisan al-Gaib is the Fremen word for a prophet or messiah from another world (Spoiler alert: it’s Paul). In Arabic, lisan al-gaib (لسان الغيب)  translates to ‘hidden tongue’ or ‘unseen tongue’, possibly signifying the power of a prophet to give voice to things unseen. Another Fremen word for messiah, mahdi, is directly cribbed from an analogous concept in Islamic eschatology: the word mahdi (ٱلْمَهْدِيّ‎) translates to ‘the guided one’.



Perhaps the most well-known Arabic loanword in Dune is one that didn’t make it into the movie. Jihad (جِهَاد), usually translated as ‘struggle’, is a concept that majorly factors into the books’ mythology and plot. The Butlerian Jihad, which occurred thousands of years before the events of Dune, was a pivotal event that saw humanity overthrowing computers and banning any intelligent technology. Thousands of years later, Paul foresees another jihad committed in his name, which eventually comes to pass in the sequels.

Villeneuve’s Dune omitted the loaded word, presumably wanting to avoid associations with contemporary Islamic terrorism. Instead, the film calls the story’s prophesied holy war a crusade—arguably an equally loaded word that carries historical anti-Islamic associations. 



The world of Dune is an imagined far future of our own world: therefore, the religious and philosophical ideas presented in Dune are canonically related to those from history. This becomes obvious in terms like Zensunni, the Fremen religion that is a mix of—you guessed it—Zen Buddhism and Sunni Islam. 

Sunni Islam is one of the two main branches of Islam, and comprises up to ninety percent of Muslims worldwide. The word sunni comes from the sunnah (سنة‎), the practices and traditions of Islam as documented in the records of Muhammad’s life and teachings, the hadith

While the word Zen is Japanese, Zen Buddhism originated in China, where it is called Chán (禪), a word which in turn derives from the Sanskrit dhyāna, usually translated as ‘meditation’ or ‘training of the mind’. And while actress Zendaya stars in Dune (where her character, Chani, is an adherent of Zensunni religion), her name comes not from Zen Buddhism but from the word Tendayi, Shona for ‘to give thanks’. 


Bene Gesserit

The Bene Gesserit (pronounced with a soft g, at least in the 2021 film) are a matriarchal religious order that has been orchestrating events in the Dune universe for millennia before the story begins, including a carefully manipulated messiah-breeding program and a system, called the Missionaria Protectiva, of sowing their religious beliefs throughout the universe. Unlike some of the terms Herbert borrowed from Arabic, the etymology of Bene Gesserit is unclear, if indeed it has an etymology beyond Herbert’s imagination. 

In Latin, bene gesserit roughly translates to ‘borne well’ or ‘carried well’. Gesserit is a verb form of gerere, from which we get the Latin root gest, found in words such as digest, gesture, and—most relevant here—gestation. Other terms associated with the Bene Gesserit, such as missionaria protectiva and panoplia propheticus, are also derived from Latin.

However, there are other theories on the origins of bene gesserit: Frank Herbert’s son Brian suggested the word was meant to evoke Jesuit, recalling the prestige of that real-life religious order. Baheyeldin suggests that the term is yet another borrowing from Arabic: a rough transliteration of the Arabic bene jazira (بني جزيرة), meaning ‘sons of the island/peninsula’. 


Kwisatz Haderach

One of  the most remarked-upon etymologies in Dune, kwisatz haderach is the term that the Bene Gesserit use to refer to the prophesied figure they have been trying to engineer for generations. In-universe, it is translated as ‘the shortening of the way’. 

Herbert borrowed both the term and the meaning from the Zohar, a foundational text of Kabbalah, in which the Hebrew Kefitzat Haderech (קְפִיצַת הַדֶּרֶךְ) refers to a shortened road or journey, a miraculous leap between locations. Indeed, Herbert seems to have taken inspiration from Kabbalistic thought in many respects when writing Dune, a story that delves deep into themes of messianism and esoteric or mystical knowledge, both important concepts in Kabbalah. 



In the Dune-iverse, characters travel short distances by air via ornithopters—’thopters for short—aircraft that have flapping wings like birds, rather than helical rotors. Ornithopter shares the Greek root -pter with its real-world analogue the helicopter, plus ornith-, a Greek root meaning ‘bird’. 

While you aren’t likely to see one flying around, ornithopters aren’t Frank Herbert’s invention. Leonardo da Vinci actually designed a machine to mimic avian flight in 1485, and since then there have been ornithopters powered by humans, rubber bands, and engines. Funnily enough, the ornithopters in Villeneuve’s Dune don’t look like birds at all, but helicopters whose rotors have been replaced by dragonfly wings. It might be more accurate, then, to call them anisopters, after anisoptera – literally, unequal wings—the scientific term for dragonflies.

Tasty Morsels from Groovy Hubs: Our Favorite Words from Succession

Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun from Succession

Photograph by Graeme Hunter/HBO

Whether you’re a con-head or a slime puppy, fans of HBO’s Succession know that no one can turn a phrase—especially a profane one—like the show’s writers. The drama, which features the members of the Roy family plotting for control over the family media empire, won awards for the whip-smart, hilarious dialogue of its first two seasons, going way beyond the strings of emphatic “f*ck off”s the show is known for. (Although there are quite a lot of those: in fact, star Brian Cox wore the signature phrase on a mask to the season premiere.) After a hiatus of over two years, Succession will be back for its third season on Sunday; in anticipation, we’ve gathered some of our favorite words and phrases from the show so far. 


Greg: What’s ortolan?

Tom: It is a deep-fried songbird, eaten whole.

Season 1, Episode 6, “Which Side Are You On?” 

As Tom explains to a deeply uncomfortable Greg, the ortolan is a small songbird native to Europe that, for centuries, was a delicacy of French cuisine. While Tom is incorrect about the method of preparation – the birds are traditionally roasted after being drowned in armagnac brandy(!) – he is correct about the way they are eaten: with a napkin placed over the diner’s head and eyes, possibly to concentrate the eating experience, or to shield the diner from the judgment of God at such a shameful act. 

The killing and eating of ortolans is banned in the E.U., which has made the experience all the more rare– and, for some, more exclusive. In recent years, ortolan has been featured in the shows Billions and Hannibal as well as Succession.  The bird, its exclusivity, and the ritual around eating it are all ripe for symbolic usage: in Succession’s case, it represents the callous indulgences of the ultra-rich, and also echoes the way its characters turn a blind eye to wrongdoing at the Waystar/Royco corporation.

closed-loop system

Tom: It’s cool though, because it’s like I didn’t cheat, because all the sperm stayed in my own body. Like a closed-loop system

Season 1, Episode 8, “Prague” 

In engineering, a closed-loop system refers to electro-mechanical control systems that incorporate feedback in their own operation, like cruise control. In Succession, it’s Tom’s euphemism for a certain act (we won’t go into detail here) that’s definitely “a thing, there’s a word for it.” 

bear hug

Logan: This is a fucking bear hug?

Kendall: That’s right.

Season 1, Episode 10, “Nobody is Ever Missing”

Succession is, at least ostensibly, a show about business dealings, and for some viewers (including your author) the show serves as a crash course in corporate jargon. 

The end of Season 1 sees Kendall and Stewy attempting a hostile takeover of Waystar/Royco via bear hug, a move that is not at all cuddly as its namesake, and far more akin to the wrestling move of the same name. In business terminology, a bear hug is an acquisition strategy in which the offering company tries to buy the target company’s shares at a price well beyond market valuation. 


Stewy: Fuck you too, you pusillanimous piece of fucking fool’s gold.

Season 2, Episode 1, “The Summer Palace”

When Stewy Hosseini hurls the above insult at former partner Kendall, he’s understandably mad after being double-crossed; in true Stewy fashion, though, he doesn’t miss a beat. 

The word pusillanimous, meaning ‘weak-willed and cowardly’, comes from the Latin pusillus, ‘weak’, and animus, ‘spirit’. It’s a good word to hurl at political opponents, as Spiro Agnew did in 1970, calling critics of Nixon’s Vietnam policy “pusillanimous pussyfooters”. 


Connor: I hyperdecant. You don’t hyperdecant? You’re just doing regular decanting?

Season 2, Episode 3, “Hunting”

Leave it to Connor, the out-of-touch eldest Roy sibling, to deploy one-percenter lingo in a way that was probably intended to be sophisticated, but just comes off as embarrassing. 

Decanting refers to transferring a liquid—usually wine—from one receptacle to another. In oenology and viticulture, decanting aerates the wine and separates it from any sediment it may have formed. Hyper-decanting—yes, it’s a real thing!—is a controversial method of putting wine in a blender, which supposedly has the effect of softening the tannins and speeding up the aging process. Does it work? Well, the jury’s out

attack child

Greg: A person can definitely fit through that window. A small person. An attack child.

Season 2, Episode 4, “Safe Room” 

You’ve heard of attack helicopters, attack dogs, and attack ads. Attack children, however, are a newer (and hopefully imaginary) concept cooked up by Greg in a moment of panic. The word attack—whether used as an adjective, verb or noun—has its roots in the Old Italian stacca, meaning ‘stake’: a weapon of questionable efficacy against an attack child, unless the child is also a vampire. 


Greg: My grandpa has made it clear that if I want to secure my future, then I need to sever my links. Negotiate a bit of a “Grexit“.

Season 2, Episode 8, “Dundee”

Succession loves its puns and portmanteaus almost as much as its insults: a (poorly) rapping Kendall is dubbed Ken-W.A., Frank is Bore Vidal, and everyone knows that “You can’t make a Tomelette (or Tomelet?) without breaking a few Greggs. 

Grexit, as Cousin Greg deems his own potential departure from the company, is clearly a reference to Brexit, the informal term for the United Kingdom’s departure from the E.U. Funnily enough, the words Brexit and Grexit were coined around the same time, though the word Grexit IRL referred not to Cousin Greg but to a potential Greek withdrawal from the Eurozone (from ‘Greece’ + ‘exit’). 

In fact, many Eurosceptic movements have since followed Britain’s lexicographic lead, dubbing their own anti-E.U. efforts Czexit (Czechia), Nexit (The Netherlands), Frexit (France), and more. Outside of politics, British tabloids and social media coined Megxit as a catchy term for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s break from the royal family.

funge me

Logan: You’re fungible as fuck.

Rhea: Fine. Then funge me. Go ahead. Try. 

Season 2, Episode 9, “D.C.”

Thanks to the NFT craze, the word fungible is having a bit of a moment. While the first non-fungible tokens have been around since as early as 2014, this episode aired well before the NFT buying surge of 2021, of which Logan Roy would no doubt disapprove. 

Fungible means ‘flexible’, ‘exchangeable’, or ‘easily substituted’, and usually appears in legal and economic contexts. The word comes from the Latin fungi, ‘to perform’—the same root that gives us function. Unlike many words that end in -ible, and a lot more that end in -able, fungible doesn’t have a corresponding verb (e.g. edible and eat, or dispensable and dispense). At least, not until now. 

Feel like binge-watching? Check out our other posts on television words.