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

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!

Q&A with Arika Okrent, author of Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don’t Rhyme—and Other Oddities of the English Language

image of Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don’t Rhyme – and Other Oddities of the English Language

Image credit: OUP

Why is the English language so complicated, so illogical, and so weird?

Everyone has thought it, from the most seasoned writers to the newest English language learners. In her new book, Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don’t Rhyme—and Other Oddities of the English Language [, Amazon, OUP], author and linguist Arika Okrent sets out to explain some of the language’s most notorious contradictions—and, along the way, paints a delightfully engaging picture of the language’s history, from its Germanic origins to the latter-day pedants who insist on keeping English irrational.

Dr. Okrent spoke with us about working on the book, and about English past, present, and future.

Your book addresses the questions people like to ask about the English language: things like “why do we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?” Of all these questions, were there certain ones that you heard again and again, even before you started writing Highly Irregular? Do you think that people are actually interested in learning the answers, or do we just like complaining and asking rhetorical questions about English?

The only ones that I heard more than once were the joke ones, like driveway/parkway, no egg in eggplant, or “why do noses run and feet smell,” and no, people don’t bring those up really wanting to know the answer. The winking complaining is the point. But the thing they’re complaining about, that English can be so illogical and unsystematic, is important, as any person trying to learn it as a second language (or child learning it as a first language) can tell you. It’s also very interesting! There is a “why” and it tells you something about how languages develop. The really good questions came from kids or non-native speakers. Why don’t we spell “of” with a v? Why do we order a “large” drink and not a “big” one? It takes a bit of an outsider perspective to even see these.

A man in a tuxedo smoking a cigar and holding a wad of cash says "I'm a large spender, make it a BIG pizza" to a cashier wearing a baseball cap and a ponytail

image credit: Sean O’Neill

One thing that makes Highly Irregular so much fun to read is the accompanying cartoons by artist Sean O’Neill. How did that collaborative process work, and how did you decide which examples were going to be illustrated?

We started working together on a series of whiteboard videos for Mental Floss, little two or three minute explanations of various language topics. I would write a script, he would come up with some drawings to go with it, film himself drawing them on a whiteboard, and then I would edit it
together and record the script as a voiceover. In the very beginning, I would write the script with some idea of what he could use to make things visual, trying to pick examples that were drawable, but he would always come up with something great that I hadn’t thought of at all. So I stopped thinking of things visually when writing (I’m totally a word person, not a picture person!) and just trusted him to find the way into the drawing.

I did the same for the book. I just gave him the sections as I finished them and he would come up with three or four drawings for each one. I love how he really brings people to life. I think we language folks have a tendency to think about the history of language very abstractly–the movement of sounds, lexemes, meanings, grammatical templates–but it’s all people, real people using those things, in 400 AD, in 1476, in 1890, and today. It’s nice to see them in action, even in [a] cartoon version, a reminder that it’s not words themselves that change meaning, but people using those words.

Highly Irregular addresses a lot of the specific particularities of the English language, but it also does a great job of dispelling myths about English, and about language in general: how languages develop, how they get standardized, and so on. Are there particular takeaways you really wanted to impart on your readers, or broader philosophical ideals that inform the work?

I think people generally know, and accept, that language changes, but a lot of the illogical bits in language come from the fact that language also stays the same. Certain parts resist the change around them and they become fossils, part of the language today, but stuck with the forms of a previous era. Language is two opposing things at once: an infinitely creative tool for expressing any kind of meaning that comes along in the world, and a very conservative tradition that must be stable enough to pass from one generation to the next. We are able to say things that have never been said before, while most of the time repeating the same things over and over again. The repetition embeds and entrenches habits. The creativity introduces departures from the habits. It needs to be both. It’s amazing that it’s both!

What about your takeaways—has writing Highly Irregular changed the way you speak, write, read, and listen to the English language? Do you notice things you wouldn’t have before?

Of course I’ve become much more attuned to the questions, the moments of “wait, what’s up with that, English?” I love hearing “mistakes” from kids or non-native speakers because they usually brilliantly capture what the rule should be but for some reason isn’t. And then I want to know the reason.

Finally, how is English going to continue becoming even more irregular? Might we soon have to add new categories of blame: “Blame the Internet,” for example?

It’s really hard to predict what might be irregular in the future. Like, could a speaker of Old English even imagine that we would totally change the way we do past tense verbs? Would a typesetter in the early days of the printing press ever think that we might come to fret so much about spelling when it really wasn’t considered very important at the time? I do think the internet and social media are having a major effect on language in the way that connectivity speeds up the pace of spread of language innovations and in the way it has made possible a written version of real time, spontaneous, casual communication. What sort of mistakes might kids of the future, just learning to communicate online, make in this area? The question doesn’t even make sense, because when it comes to online communication we accept that whatever the kids are doing is what it is. It’s the older generations who don’t get the rules quite right.

[Note: and Amazon links are affiliate links. By purchasing through these links, you help support Wordnik’s nonprofit mission to find and share all the words of English.]

Happy St. Andrew’s Day! 7 Bonnie Scots Words to Use More Often

Photo by Rhys Asplundh (CC BY 2.0)

St. Andrew’s Day isn’t just the feast day of Andrew the Apostle, it’s Scotland’s official national day. What better time to share seven bonnie Scots words that should be used more often?


“The old are crabbit, and they do be thinking more of draining a field, or of the price of flax, nor of the pain and delights of love.”

Brian Oswald Donn-Byrne, The Wind Bloweth, 1922

Why say crabby when you can say crabbit? Named for the crooked movements of the crab, this word first came about in the 15th century, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).


“‘Mah dear wumman,’ he said patiently, ‘will ye kindly shut yer geggie?’”

W. Miller, Scottish Short Stories, 1985

The next time you want to tell someone to shut their piehole, you can say, “Shut yer geggie!” instead. This slang term for someone’s mouth is specifically from Glasgow, says the OED, and might be related to geggie or geg hole which, in the game of marbles, is the hole “into which the marbles are rolled,” or else the Scots regional term geg or gaig, which refers to a cleft or crack. The OED’s earliest citation is from the above quote in 1985.

An older meaning of geggie, also according to the OED, is a traveling theatrical show, which come from the word gag meaning lines or jokes not in a script but improvised by the performer.


“The very smell of the dog was couthie in his nose.”

George Douglas Brown, The House with the Green Shutters

Couthie meaning kindly, neighborly, or familiar comes from couth, a backformation of uncouth. While uncouth now means clumsy or unrefined, its obsolete definition is strange, foreign, or unfamiliar.


“But I mind, when I was a gilpy of a lassock, seeing the Duke, that was him that lost his head at London.”

Sir Walter Scott, Old Mortality

This term for a “frolicsome young fellow … roguish boy [or] lively young girl” might be an alteration of galopin, according to the OED. A galopin refers to a page or errand-boy.


“There are quite a number who consider it more fantoosh to do their shopping in Perth.”

The People’s Journal (Dundee), Nov. 29, 1947

Fantoosh is often used disparagingly, says the OED, to mean fancy, showy, or stylish in an ostentatious or pretentious way. It’s probably a borrowing “by Scottish soldiers in France during the First World War,” coming from the French slang term, fantoche, which refers to a military uniform “that does not conform to the usual regulations,” and by extension describes something fantastical or eccentric.


“Are ye a’ cleared kelty aff?—Fill anither.”

Sir Walter Scott, Rob Roy

You know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Marion Ravenwood and her drinking competitor turn over their shot glasses after they toss back their liquor? That’s a kelty. This shouldn’t-be-obsolete term is believed to be named for a Scottish laird named Keltie who was “famous for this drinking powers,” says the OED.


“One item he could not do without was his wrought iron sitooterie, an arched garden arbor lined with a pair of benches.”

Wendi Winters, “Home of the Week: Professor’s Ginger Cove home a lesson plan for style and comfort,” Capital Gazette, Jan. 29, 2016

The fun-to-say sitooterie refers to “an area where people can sit outside,” says the OED, like a conservatory or gazebo. An earlier and now obsolete meaning is a “secluded area within a building where people can sit apart from others.” The word is a blend of sit, the Scots variant of out, and the suffix ery. The OED’s earliest citation is from 1920: “The Reid Hall was suitably rigged up in unwonted ‘braws’, the ‘Sitooterie’ especially being voted a great success.”

Want more Scottish stuff? Check out these lists, Under the Kilt and Scots Words.

In Memoriam: Quentin M. Sullivan

Today is National Limerick Day, so in memory of our friend and fellow Wordnik Quentin M. Sullivan (August 22, 1945–July 4, 2019), we’re celebrating his contribution of nearly three thousand limericks to Wordnik.

From late 2013 to mid-2019, Quentin (qms) wrote a limerick featuring the Wordnik word of the day, nearly every day. His wit, kindness, and linguistic creativity are sorely missed.

In his honor, we’ve put together a downloadable PDF of our favorites, and we’ve adopted the word limerick in his name, forever.

It’s official! Wordnik is now a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit!


You may remember when we first announced we had started the process of becoming a not-for-profit corporation, with the mission of collecting and sharing data for every word in the English language. Our mission remains the same, but now our status is official.

Wordnik is now a 501(c)(3) organization, which means we’re a full nonprofit. What does this mean for you? You can still adopt a word to help support us and our mission. For just $25, or less than 50 cents a day, you can own a word for a whole year. Not only that, your Twitter handle or URL will appear on the word page, and you’ll get a nifty certificate (suitable for framing!) and wordy stickers.

If you’ve wanted to support Wordnik, but adopting a word isn’t your thing, check out our new donation page! We’re currently fundraising to cover our server costs for the remainder of 2018.

We’d also like to thank PlanetWork NGO, who served as our fiscal sponsor while we applied for our own 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. (A fiscal sponsor is a 501(c)(3) that accepts donations on behalf of another nonprofit org, so that donations to the sponsored organization can be considered tax-deductible. Fiscal sponsorship is a wonderful way for smaller orgs to get started on the path to being tax-exempt organizations in their own right.)

And as always, please send any questions or feedback to

[Image via Flickr: “Nonprofit,” Sharon Sinclair, CC BY 2.0]

The Words of Washington Irving


American author Washington Irving was born on this day in 1783. A native New Yorker, Irving is best known for his stories, “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” But he’s also the author of many other works, including essays, biographies, and satirical pieces, as well as the coiner and popularizer of several words we still use today. Here are eight from what some consider the first true American writer.


“Their government is a pure unadulterated logocracy, or government of words.”

Salmagundi, 1807

Irving popularized this term meaning “government by the power of words.” Logocracy is Greek in origin with logo comes from logos, “word, discourse, reason,” and the suffix –cracy ultimately from kratos, “strength.”


“[The table] was always sure to boast an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks—a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, except in genuine Dutch families.”

Knickerbocker’s History of New York, 1809

Irving seems to have been the first to record this delicious word. As for the more casual donut, that turned up, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, as an alternative spelling in the U.S. “as early as 1870.”


“As great a dom cop, as if he had been educated among that learned people of Thrace, who … could not count beyond the number four.”

A History of New York, 1809

Dummkopf meaning a dolt or stupid person translates from German as “dumb head.”


“When I find New Yorkers of Dutch descent priding themselves upon being ‘genuine Knickerbockers,’ I please myself with the persuasion that I have struck the right chord.”

Knickerbocker’s History of New York, 1809

A knickerbocker can refer to a descendant of the original Dutch settlers of New York, a native New Yorker, or breeches or knickers. It’s also where the New York Knicks got its name. The word comes from Diedrich Knickerbocker, the fictional author of Irving’s History of New York. A knickerbocker glory is a kind of elaborate ice cream sundae served in a tall glass.

mint julep

“The inhabitants not having the fear of the Lord before their eyes were notoriously prone to get fuddled and make merry with mint julep and apple toddy.”

A History of New York, 1809

Irving’s seems to be the earliest recorded mention of this summery bourbon beverage. A julep, in case you were wondering, is a sweet, syrupy drink, to which medicine is often added. The word ultimately comes from the Persian gulāb, rosewater.


“Had not this opportunity offered I would have been obliged to make a long roundabout tour by the way of Milan … where I should be detained quarantined smoked and vinegared.”

Life and Letters, 1804

While quarantine as a noun has been around since the 16th century, Irving seems to be the first to use it as a verb. The original meaning of the noun was a “period of 40 days in which a widow has the right to remain in her dead husband’s house,” and comes from the Latin quadraginta, “forty.”

almighty dollar

“In a word, the almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout our land, seems to have no genuine devotees in these peculiar villages.”

The Creole Village,” 1836

The idiom almighty dollar is a satirical reference to the U.S. dollar, bestowing it with godlike powers.


“This passage of the erudite Linkum was applied to the city of Gotham, of which he was once Lord Mayor, as appears by his picture hung up in the hall of that ancient city.”

Salmagundi, 1807

While we now associate Gotham with the home of a certain caped crusader, it may have first been used as a nickname for New York by Irving. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Gotham originally referred to “the name of a village, proverbial for the folly of its inhabitants.” In Nottinghamshire there’s a village called Gatham, which means “enclosure where goats are kept,” but it’s not clear if this is what the name Gotham refers to.