10 Awesome Insults That Are Available for Adoption


Insults are some of the best words around (just check out this list), which arguably makes them great adoptees. (And while it might be tempting to adopt an insult in someone’s name, keep in mind you’ll need that someone’s permission.) Here are 10 of our favorite insults that you can still adopt for your very own.


In simplest terms, the term troglodyte is used to refer to someone thought to be “reclusive, reactionary, out of date, or brutish.” You can also use it to compare someone to an ape, a member of a prehistoric race of people who lived in caves, or a creature that lives underground, like a worm. The word comes from the Latin Trōglodytae, “a people said to be cave dwellers.”


Know a spuriously submissive someone who likes to curry favor? You’ve got yourself a sycophant. This word comes from the Greek sūkophantēs, “informer,” which comes from sūkon phainein, which means “to show a fig.” So what does showing the fig mean? The Online Etymology Dictionary says it “was a vulgar gesture made by sticking the thumb between two fingers, a display which vaguely resembles a fig, itself symbolic of a vagina,” and it’s thought that “prominent politicians in ancient Greece” refrained “from such inflammatory gestures, but privately urged their followers to taunt their opponents.”


Then there’s the person who adept at creating a noxious atmosphere, literal or not. Miasma is the word for them. The word comes from the Greek miainein, “to pollute.”


A little dab’ll do ya, especially if you’re a dilettante. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says the word first referred simply to a “lover of the fine arts,” especially “one who cultivates them for the love of them rather than professionally.” The term gained the meaning of an amateur artist but then came to be used derisively to mean someone “who interests himself in an art or science merely as a pastime and without serious aim or study.” As an adjective, it means superficial or amateurish.


Know a know-it-all who doesn’t know it all? You’ve got yourself a sciolist, someone who has only superficial knowledge about a subject but claims to be ab expert. The term comes from the Latin sciolus, “one who knows a little,” and first appeared in English around 1612.


We suppose you can’t get much weaker than milk-soaked toast. This term for someone meek and timid is named for Caspar Milquetoast, a character created by American cartoonist H.T. Webster in 1924. The name comes from milk toast, an actual dish of buttered toast served in milk with sugar and other seasonings. A similar, much earlier term for someone considered feeble and ineffectual is milksop, which is from the late 14th century according to the Online Etymology Dictionary while milksop the dish (bread soaked in milk) came afterward, in the late 15th century.


Need a good word for a coward? Poltroon at your service. The word comes from the Italian poltrone, “lazy fellow, coward,” which apparently comes from poltro meaning couch or bed. That  might come from the Latin pullus, “young of an animal.”


The excellent quidnunc is perfect for the nosy gossip. It comes from the Latin quid nunc meaning “What now?” and, according to the OED, first appeared in English in a 1709 issue of a “society journal” called Tatler: “The insignificancy of my manners to the rest of the world makes the laughers call me a quidnunc.”


This word for a smug or ignorant person “regarded as being indifferent or antagonistic to artistic and cultural values” or one who “lacks knowledge in a specific area” has somewhat complex origins. It originally referred to an ancient people “who made war on the Israelites,” says the Online Etymology Dictionary, and first appeared in English in the early 14th century. By 1600 it was used humorously to mean a “member of a group regarded as one’s enemies,” says the OED. Around 1824, it gained popularity at German universities as a derogatory term for townies or non-students, and by 1825 came to refer to an uneducated or unenlightened person.


Charlatan is already a pretty great word, but how about mountebank? While now referring to any flamboyant huckster, the word originated in the 1570s to mean a doctor who stands on a bench to hawk “his infallible remedies and cures.” It comes from the Italian montambanco, a contraction of monta in banco, which means “quack” or “juggler” and translates literally as “mount on bench.”

Want even more word adoption ideas? Check out the 10 coolest words we still can’t believe are unadopted, and four wunderbar German loanwords that are also available.

Wunderbar! German Loanwords You Can Still Adopt

The Burnett doppelganger
We’re seeing doppel.

Last week we brought 10 of the coolest words we can’t believe no one has adopted. Today we have seven four excellent German loanwords that are also still available. They might be called untranslatables — that is, words that don’t have corresponding word in another language, in this case English — or you can just call them wunderbar.


Quick, adopt doppelganger before your evil twin does! An apparition or double of someone still living, the term translates literally as “double goer” and originally had a paranormal sense.

UPDATE: Doppelganger has been adopted! Thank you Mark Cohen aka @gliageek! We’re so happy this good word has found a good home.


We can hardly believe it ourselves, but schadenfreude is still unadopted. Translating literally as “damage” (Schaden) “joy” (Freude), this term refers to pleasure that comes from another’s misfortune.


Call something ersatz and you’re calling it an imitation or substitute, usually an inferior one. The term first appeared in English in 1875, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, and comes from the German Ersatz meaning “units of the army reserve” and translating literally as “compensation, replacement, substitute.”


In addition to being the original name of the Wordnik community page, a zeitgeist is the spirit of a particular time or the defining taste or outlook of a generation or period. The earliest recorded use in English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), was in 1848 by poet Matthew Arnold. It translates from German as “time” (Zeit) “spirit” (Geist).


A gestalt is the “configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.” The word first appeared in English in 1922, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, coming from the German term Gestaltqualität, which was introduced in 1890 by German philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels. Gestaltqualität is from gestalt meaning “shape, form, figure, configuration, appearance.”

UPDATE: Gestalt has been adopted! Thank you Kelly Yoshida aka @typologianista!


Feeling sad about the evils of the world, but in a kind of romantic or sentimental way? You’re feeling weltschmerz. Translating literally as “world pain,” the term first appeared in English in 1875, says the OED.

UPDATE: Weltschmerz has been adopted! Thank you Jack Lyons!


In addition to being fun to say, this word is perfect for chess and German language lovers alike. In a zugzwang, a chess player is forced to make “an undesirable or disadvantageous move.” It translates literally as “pull compulsion.”

Find out some more ways you can support Wordnik.

The 10 Coolest Words We Can’t Believe No One Has Adopted


Since launching our adopt-a-word program back in 2014, hundreds of words have been taken into loving homes. We love all the adoptees, from distinctive and lovely petrichor adopted by @logicalelegance, to capricious quixotic by @digdoug, to loose-lipped loquacious by @misskorbikay. But there are some words we can’t believe are still up for the taking. Here are our 10 most interesting words that are still available for adoption.



Interpretation of Robertson’s Fantasmagorie, 1867

We love this word and not just because of its cameo in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. While it now refers to a fantastic series of images that one might see in a dream or fever or such imagery in art, a phantasmagoria was originally a display of optical illusions produced by a device called a magic lantern, an old-timey slide projector that used light and shadow to produce large, spooky images on a wall or screen.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), this kind of entertainment was first shown by Étienne-Gaspard Robert (also known simply as Robertson) in Paris in 1798, then in London by Paul de Philipstal in 1802 (the word first appearing in English as that time), and by early that century had become popular throughout England.

The word is an alteration of the French phantasmagorie, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, said to be coined the year before by French dramatist Louis-Sébastien Mercier to mean “crowd of phantoms,” and coming from the Greek phantasma, “image, phantom, apparition,” and perhaps agora, “assembly.” However, this second part “may have been chosen more for the dramatic sound than any literal sense.”


This is our favorite word that sounds like the opposite of what it means. Pulchritude, meaning great physical beauty, comes from the Latin pulchritudo, “beauty; excellence, attractiveness,” and originated way back in the 14th century.


Another word that doesn’t sound like its definition, eldritch is a 16th-century Scots term that means strange, unearthly, or eerie. The origin is unclear. While the OED finds a connection with elf, the Scottish variant of which is elphrish, the American Heritage Dictionary says it comes from the Old English el-, meaning “strange, other,” and the Old English rīce, meaning “realm.”



This word meaning pertaining to the evening comes from the Latin vesper, “evening.” Vespers is a religious term that refers to “the sixth of the seven canonical hours,” or times of day devoted to prayer; a “worship service held in the late afternoon or evening in many Western Christian churches”; the “time of day appointed for this service; evensong; or in the Roman Catholic Church, a “service held on Sundays or holy days that includes the office of vespers.” Vesper singular refers to the summoning bell for vespers or the evening star, and is an archaic term for “evening.”


Humpty Dumpty explains the meaning of ‘portmanteau’ to Alice in ‘Through the Looking-Glass’

Wait, portmanteau is still up for the grabs? Indeed it is! This excellent word originally meant a kind of suitcase that opens into “two hinged compartments” but now perhaps more popularly (at least to us) refers to a word that’s a blend of two or more other words. The latter definition was coined by Lewis Carroll: “Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’… You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”



We love this term meaning “feeling or showing haughty disdain” because of where it comes from: the Latin supercilium, which refers to “haughty demeanor, pride” but translates literally as “eyebrow.”



Auspicious is another word with an excellent etymology. Meaning lucky or prosperous, this term ultimately comes from the Latin auspicium, meaning “divination by observing the flight of birds.”


Lambent’s origin is bit a lascivious. Meaning flickering over a surface (as “lambent moonlight”), “effortlessly light or brilliant” (as “lambent wit”), or having “a gentle glow,” the word comes from the Latin lambere, “to lick.”


Got an unrequited kind of love? That’s limerence, a term introduced by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in her 1979 book, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. Tennov says the word has “no etymology whatsoever.”



This beautiful word can mean producing “a display of lustrous, rainbowlike colors,” or “brilliant, lustrous, or colorful in effect or appearance.” According to the OED, iridescent was coined by Irish geologist Richard Kirwan in his 1794 book, Elements of Mineralogy: “When polished, becomes iridescent.”

Have we piqued your interest? Find out more about adopting a word and other ways you can support Wordnik.


Word Buzz Wednesday: nationalist, cannibal morph, sprezzatura

What are you looking at?
Too cool for school.

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, the scary edition! In our latest roundup of interesting words: a not-so-simple definition, your newest amphibious band name, a “chalant” nonchalance.


“During a rally Monday night in Texas, President Donald Trump used a word he had never before uttered publicly to describe himself: nationalist.”

Doug Criss, “The definition of a nationalist,” CNN, October 23, 2018

While the definitions of nationalist and nationalism at face value may not seem controversial, there’s no denying their incendiary implications. The original definition of a nationalist, says CNN, is an advocate of nationalism, which refers to “the devotion and loyalty to one’s own country.” However, by the first half of the 20th century, it became “associated with the nationalism movements in Europe that helped lead to World War I and World War II,” and is now “often associated with the far-right, racist ideologies of white nationalists.”

But not everyone sees the term that way. A former senior adviser to Brexit leader Nigel Farage told CNN that nationalism “is a philosophy based around either the nation state, what we know colloquially as ‘countries,’ or around another identity factor, which could be religion, ethnicity, geography or even interests,” and that President Trump is “no doubt using the word to outline his belief in a nation of people unified by beliefs, interests and a common history.”

birthright citizenship

“President Donald Trump is trying to follow through on one of his campaign promises by ending birthright citizenship, a 150-year-old law established in the Constitution that grants U.S. citizenship to anybody born on U.S. soil.”

Alan Gomez, “US birthright citizenship explained: What is it, how many people benefit,” USA Today, October 30, 2018

During his presidential campaign, President Trump pitched the idea of abolishing birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants, says The New York Times, and is now bringing it up again “days before midterm congressional elections.”

So what exactly is birthright citizenship? It’s the “principle that anybody born on U.S. soil becomes a U.S. citizen,” says USA Today. It “was added to the Constitution in 1868 in the first sentence of the 14th Amendment, which reads: ‘All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside,’” and was created “to grant citizenship to freed slaves after the Civil War.” Since then it “has become a bedrock of U.S. immigration law that has allowed anybody born in the U.S. to become citizens.”

As for President Trump’s claim that the U.S. is the only country in the world to grant birthright citizenship, it’s untrue: at least 30 other countries grant it, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. Finally, for the record, the president can’t undo an amendment with an executive order. Says House Speaker Paul Ryan: “It would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process.”

carnivore morph

“These tadpoles become what’s known as a carnivore morph, ‘a much bigger tadpole’ with ‘much bigger mouthparts,’ says Greg Pauly, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.”

Liz Langley, “Neither cute nor cuddly: These animal babies are wee monsters,” National Geographic, October 26, 2018

Your newest band name is here. Some tadpoles of the spadefoot toad begin as omnivores, says National Geographic. That is, an animal that eats both plants and meat. However, once it gets a taste of flesh, it becomes a carnivore morph, avoiding plants and sticking to “fairy shrimp, its toad cousins, and sometimes its own species.”


“It’s called moulage, the art applying mock injuries through makeup, and staff uses the technique year-round.”

Carilion staff practice frightful wounds ahead of Halloween,” WDBJ, October 30, 2018

The original meaning of moulage is “a mold, as of a footprint, made for use in a criminal investigation,” as well as the “making of such a mold or cast, as with plaster of Paris.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term comes from the French moulage, the act of molding something.


“The trained observer sees sprezzatura as a sign that the individual has put in the work. The individual has attained such a level of mastery that he is able to conceal his movements and make difficult things look easy.”

Louis Chew, “The Key to the Effortless Cool Known as “‘Sprezzatura”’ Is Hard Work,” Quartzy, October 30, 2018

Sprezzatura, a kind of studied carelessness or nonchalance, seems to have been coined by 16th-century Italian courtier Baldassare Castiglione in his writing, The Book of the Courtier. The term first appeared in English in the 1950s, says the OED, and referred specifically to art: “The quality that the Italian critics called sprezzatura.”

Happy Dictionary Day! Time to Show the Dictionary Love

Title page of Noah Webster’s 1828 edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language. Book owned by the California State Library. Photo by Jim Heaphy.

Every October 16 celebrates the birthday of Noah Webster, often called the Father of American Scholarship and Education. As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary (his namesake), he believed the U.S. should have a distinctive language “with its own idiom, pronunciation, and style.” His 1806 publication, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, is considered “the first truly American dictionary.”

You can celebrate Dictionary Day in all sorts of ways. You can visit the Noah Webster House in West Hartford, CT; play Scrabble all day with the game’s recently updated dictionary; or get your dictionary costume ready for Halloween. You can also help Wordnik.

Wordnik, A Brief History

Longtime Wordniks know it all started with a TED talk. In 2017, our fearless founder, Erin McKean, discussed redefining the traditional, paper dictionary. Flash-forward to Leap Day 2008 and Wordnik’s incorporation (and “un-birthday”), and its official launch a little more than a year later.

After amassing thousands of users, tens of thousands of word lists, and millions of words, Wordnik found its true calling by deciding in 2014 to become a not-for-profit. Less than a year later, it launched its Kickstarter campaign with the goal of giving a million missing words their rightful place in the dictionary. Finally, in April of this year, Wordnik officially became a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit.

Gearing up for Giving Tuesday

The holidays are right around the corner, which means Giving Tuesday is less than two months away. Falling on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, it’s the beginning of the charitable season and a time to give back, whether to your family, community, or favorite charity. We hope you consider giving to Wordnik.

Like the TARDIS, Wordnik is a lot bigger on the inside. From the outside, it might look like a simple website, but on the inside are words — lots and lots of words. In fact, more than any other dictionary. And maintaining those words and the data around them (including not just definitions and sample sentences but also related words, images, tweets, and Scrabble score) runs up a lot of server and storage costs. That’s why we’re asking you to help meet our goal of raising $25,000 by the end of 2018.

How You Can Help

While $25,000 might sound like a lot, there are lots of small ways you can help.

Adopt a word. We launched our adopt-a-word program back in 2014, and since then hundreds of words have been welcomed into loving homes.

How does it work? Donate just $25 (that’s less than 50 cents a week) and you can own a word for a whole year. Not only that, you get:

  • Your Twitter handle or website URL linked on the word page
  • A downloadable, printable certificate commemorating your adoption
  • Stickers
  • Your word sent to the front of the line for updated data
  • An “adopter” badge on your Wordnik user page

Plus! From now through the end of the year, you’ll also get two supercute Wordnik notebooks!


And remember:

  • Your donation is tax-deductible (where allowed by law)
  • You can adopt a word in someone’s name, which makes a great gift (one size fits all!)

There are even a few lifetime word adoptions still available. Join designer and technologist John Maeda (who adopted design), venture capitalist and musician Roger McNamee (who adopted wombat), and philanthropist and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark (who adopted nerd) in adopting your favorite word forever! Email us for details.

Special sponsorships. We also have special sponsorships available—you can sponsor an entire letter of the alphabet, our Word of the Day email (which reaches more than 6,000 word enthusiasts), or Logodaedaly, our word games newsletter (which reaches more than 500 games aficionados). For information about sponsoring any of these, please email us!

Donate any amount. When we announced our official not-for-profit status, we also launched our Donately page. You can make a one-time or recurring donation of any amount. In addition:

  • If you give at least $15, you’ll get fun word-nerdy stickers
  • Now through the end of 2018, if you donate $100 or more, you’ll also get:
    • A word of your very own for FIVE YEARS
    • The Wordnik T-shirt of your choosing!

Chip in five bucks when you get your Wordnik API key. Of course you can get it for free, but if you give $5, you’ll not only help keep Wordnik running, you’ll get your key in 24 hours. (Normally it may take up to seven days.)

Most of All, Thank You!

Last but certainly not least, we wanted to give a big thank you to all those who have already given, whether by adopting (and re-adopting) a word, backing our Kickstarter, donating, or buying our merch. Every penny goes to keeping the lights on at Wordnik, bringing you interesting words, and giving a place for word lovers to share, comment, or make lists to their heart’s content.

What’s Next?

Keep your eyes peeled right here for more updates as we strive toward our goal!

Damon Runyon: Word ‘Moxie’ ‘In Spades’

A scene from ‘Guys and Dolls.’

While Damon Runyon might be best known for his 1920s, Broadway-focused short stories — two of which were adapted into the musical Guys and Dolls — what we’re celebrating today are the terms he coined or popularized. Take a look at six of them on the writer’s birthday.

go overboard

“We go overboard today. We are washed out. We owe every bookmaker.., and now we are out trying to raise some scratch to pay off.”

Collier’s, September 26, 1931

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), Runyon’s is the earliest recorded usage of this idiom meaning to go to extremes. The literal term of overboard refers to being over the side of a ship.

in spades

“I always hear the same thing about every bum on Broadway, male and female, including some I know are bums, in spades, right from taw.”

Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, October 1929

Since the spade is the highest suit in bridge, it’s fitting that this saying means “to a considerable degree.”


“I felt him fall and I sensed the ‘zing’ of a boob-face Arab’s knife.”

Tents of Trouble, 1911

You can thank Runyon for possibly creating the word for this zingy, high-pitched sound. By 1918, says the OED, zing also meant energy, vigor, or a zest for life.


“Personally, I always figure Louie a petty-larceny kind of guy, with no more moxie than a canary bird.”

Collier’s, December 20, 1930

Before becoming slang for “the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage”; aggressive energy or initiative; or skill or know-how, moxie was the name of a soft drink (which is apparently still around), which was patented as a “nerve food” around 1885. According to the Dictionary of American Regional English, the name might come from the Algonquian base maski-, meaning “medicine.”


“The contest..turns out to be something of a disappointment, and, in fact, it is a stinkeroo, because there is little skill and no science whatever in it.”

Collier’s, November 24, 1934

If something isn’t just bad but really bad, it’s not just a stinker but a stinkeroo.


“I love him a zillion dollars’ worth.”

Runyon a la Carte, 1944

When a million, billion, trillion, or even a quadrillion aren’t enough, you can always use a zillion. If a zillion still isn’t enough, there’s always a gazillion, which, according to the OED, might have been coined by long-time television critic Tom Shales in a December 3, 1978 article for The Washington Post: “Everything is played not to the people in the seats but to the unseen gazillions who will watch the tape played back later that night, when it is teleported into their proverbial bedrooms.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: terminal buzz, zunda, death comet

Zunda mochi
Zunda still in bean form.

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your weekly roundup of some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: your new band name (oh wait, too late), an interesting Japanese dessert, and a spacey misnomer.

terminal buzz

“It drives what’s called a terminal buzz: the rapid increase in the high-pitched calls a bat makes as it hones in on its prey.”

Lacy Schley, “Figuring Out How Bats and Dolphins Developed Echolocation,” Discover, September 28, 2018

Terminal buzz (which is also a band name natch) refers to the final sequence of calls a bat makes before “it goes for a kill,” says New Scientist. The calls are rapid-fire due to the “superfast muscles” in the bat’s larynx, and are used in echolocation: the sounds echo, which tells the bat “how far away objects are and what they are.”

shoulder season

“Also big this month are deals on European Vacations, as this is what’s known as ‘shoulder season.’”

What’s the Deal: Best and worst items to buy in October,” ABC Action News, October 1, 2018

Shoulder season refers to the period between peak- and off-season travel. According to travel guru Rick Steves, shoulder season occurs “April through mid-June, and September through October,” and “combines the advantages of both peak- and off-season travel, including decent weather, fewer crowds, and “a local tourist industry still ready to please and entertain.”

Where the term comes from isn’t clear. Perhaps it’s from the idea of the shoulder being between the head (or “peak”) and the rest of the body. If you have any information, let us know in the comments!

dark core

“Psychologists studying the roots of nefarious behavior have identified a group of personality traits linked to one another through what they dub a common ‘dark core.’”

Ben Renner, “Psychologists Identify So-Called ‘Dark Core’ Of Personality,” Study Finds, October 1, 2018

A recent study conducted by Danish and German psychologists discovered the dark core or common link between nine personality traits: psychopathy, sadism, egoism, narcissism, Machiavellianism, spitefulness, psychological entitlement, self-interest, and moral disengagement. The researchers say these behaviors are exhibited when someone puts their “needs and goals above those of their peers, to the point that hurting others can bring about feelings of pleasure.” Called the D-factor, this dark core can be tested and is similar to the idea of the G-factor, a measure of general intelligence.


Zunda is most popular in the city of Sendai, located in the northern part of the main Japanese island of Honshu.”

Zunda,” Gastro Obscura, September 27, 2018

Zunda is a kind of soybean paste “made by boiling baby soybeans until they become very soft,” says Gastro Obscura, and “seasoned with sugar and salt.” It’s often featured in Japanese sweets like mochi, roll cakes, and taiyaki, a fish-shaped cake.

death comet

“The asteroid looks a lot like a human skull in certain lighting, so much so that it has also been dubbed the ‘death comet.’”

Joshua Espinoza, “Skull-Shaped Asteroid, Known as ‘Death Comet,’ Will Fly Near Earth After Halloween,” Complex, September 28, 2018

The nefarious-sounding death comet is actually an asteroid (officially, asteroid 2015 TB145). What’s the difference? According to Cool Cosmos from CalTech, “asteroids are made up of metals and rocky material, while comets are made up of ice, dust and rocky material.” Another nickname for the death comet is the Great Pumpkin, dubbed by NASA after Linus’s unseen visitor when the heavenly body passed earth back in 2015 on Halloween night.