Words for Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know Had Names (Except for “Aglet,” Because Everyone Knows that now)

Estimates vary as to the number of words in the English language (171,476 in current use according to the OED), but for most of us, it’s not really important, as we never use the vast majority of them. But what exactly are these other words? A lot of them are scientific and technical terms we never come across or need to know. But there are quite a few words to describe common situations or objects, that you may not have known had names at all. Such as…

Aglet: this is one you might know, as it’s often used as an example of Things You Didn’t Know Had Names! Aglets are those little plastic tips at the end of your shoelace.

Petrichor: that lovely aroma created when rain hits dry, warm ground. From the Greek petros (rock) and ichor (blood of the gods). Actually a relative neologism, coined by Australian researchers in 1964 (I imagine the scent is particularly welcome in Australia after long, dry periods.

Philtrum: that little dip between your nose and lips.

Tittle: the dot of a lower-case I. Relatedly, the horizontal part of a T is a bar or cross bar, and the vertical strokes of letters like b, d, f, h, k, and l are called ascenders, and those of g, j, p, q etc. are descenders.

Caruncle: the little bit of pink flesh in the corner of your eye.

Scintillating: you probably already know this as a synonym for brilliant or excitingly clever, but it literally means emitting sparks.

Tines: the prongs of a fork

Phosphenes: the bright lights you see when you close your eyes quickly

Vocables: parts of songs like Na na na or Do do do that don’t have any inherent meaning.

I won’t go on, as you can easily find many more examples online, but many such lists will include flippant neologisms I’m not too fond of, so these terms here are those I find most interesting and have a fairly solid etymological basis. Now your mission is to try to work these into conversation today.

6 thoughts on “Words for Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know Had Names (Except for “Aglet,” Because Everyone Knows that now)

  1. I only knew two and even then one was slightly “off”. My vocabulary sucks but then I’m not a college grad.

    I have a question for you Niall, why do I often say “Let me be” instead of “leave me alone”?


    Liked by 1 person

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