The Phrontistery - the ultimate website for weird words

I share @HotTake’s love of unusual words and guessing others here might appreciate this as well :slight_smile:

The absolute best place I’ve found to learn about rare and wonderful words is The Phrontistery

The site, run by linguistic anthropologist and cognitive anthropologist Stephen Chrisomalis, was started in the '90s, and perhaps doesn’t update all that often, but still seems to be going strong!

Welcome to the Phrontistery! Since 1996, I have compiled word lists and language resources to spread the joy of the English language in all its variety through time and space. A phrontistery (from the Greek phrontistes ‘thinker’) is meant to be a thinking-place for reflection and intellectual stimulation. I invite you to explore the various site features relating to language and lexicography, find that half-remembered rare or obscure word you’ve been looking for, or to read and explore essays on language, linguistics, and culture. Have a look around, and enjoy!

Some highlights of the site:

Highly recommend taking an hour or two to peruse the site and discover some amazing new words.

Some favorites I discovered here:

  • mysteriosophy - system of knowledge concerning secrets and mysteries
  • zoosemiotics - study of animal communication
  • onomamania - mania for names
  • antichthon - hypothetical second Earth on the opposite side of the sun
  • quantuplicity - relative magnitude of a quantity
  • shake - unit of one hundred millionth of a second used to measure nuclear processes
  • xenolalia - person’s knowledge of a language never studied
  • zeitgeber - rhythmically occurring event that cues organisms’ biological rhythms
  • growlery - a retreat for times of ill humour
  • omphaloskepsis - navel-gazing
  • selcouth - strange; unfamiliar; marvellous
  • ultracrepidate - to criticize beyond sphere of one’s knowledge
  • zetetic - proceeding by inquiry; a search or investigation; a skeptical seeker of knowledge

Share your favorite words and / or other language-related websites, resources, etc. below!

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Thanks for sharing @Brendan! Late to this post by some moons, but happy to have now found my way to the light. I’d also be fond of an aggregated list of foreign words that do not have an English equivalent. Some examples:

  • Trepverter (Yiddish) – literally “staircase words”, a witty riposte or comeback you think of only when it is too late to use
  • Age-otori (Japanese) – to look worse after a haircut (lol)
  • Shemomedjamo (Georgian) – literally “I ate the whole thing”, feeling when you’re full but the meal is so delicious you can’t stop eating it
  • Zugzwang (German) – a position in which any decision or move will result in problems, first used in chess
  • Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan) – implying a wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start
  • Yoko meshi (Japanese) – literally “a meal eaten sideways”, referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language
  • Ya’aburnee (Arabic) – literally “you bury me", a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them
  • Tartle (Scottish) – meaning to hesitate while introducing someone due to having forgotten his/her name
  • Jayus (Indonesian) – meaning a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh (dad jokes)

I’ve come across coffee table books and internet posts that aggregate these, but nothing as expansive as the Phrontistery. And as a curious sub-category, I’d love to see a collection of ones that made their way into English vernacular (e.g. schadenfreude).

I’ll leave you with a word learned just yesterday, discovered after talking about how rabbits eat their own poo:

  • Coprophagia – consumption of feces (they do this to pull more nutrients out of foods that aren’t easily digestible)

Go down the rabbithole and you’ll find a family of related words (thanks Phrontistery!):

  • Coprolalia – pathological use of obscene language
  • Coprolith – ball of hardened feces
  • Coprology – study of pornography
  • Copromania – obsession with feces
  • Coprophagous – eating feces
  • Coprophemia – obscene language
  • Coprophilia – abnormal love or fondness for feces
  • Coprostatis – constipation

Interesting to see which words use the Greek root for feces “Copros” but have nothing to do with them (e.g. coprology, coprophemia). :poop: :poop: :poop:

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Haha I was hoping you’d see this topic eventually. Thanks for the abundance of copro words :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

Also love this category of language-specific words without English counterparts. And same — I’ve seen various roundups on blogs with like a dozen of these sorts of words here and there, but not aware of any comprehensive lists. Would be cool to see a ton of these in one place, sortable by language…

This reminded me of a great Twitter thread I saw recently from a linguistic anthropologist, with some important questions of language, culture, power — and how dictionaries can standardize / reinforce imbalances or artificial barriers with language:

Also related to this topic, for my dad’s last b-day he asked me to write him something, and I ended up putting together a compendium of my favorite words, some with random poetic responses added, but mostly just a nice big curated list. Would be fun to make a more web friendly version of this that I can add to as my own personalized dictionary sort of thing.

And a few favorite words I’ve found of the “no English equivalent” variety:

  • commuovere (Italian, verb): Often taken to mean “heartwarming”, but directly relates to a story that moves you to tears.
  • furrawn (Welsh, noun): The kind of talk that leads to intimacy.
  • gurfa (Arabic, noun): The amount of water that can be held in one hand.
  • jugaad (Hindi, noun): Ensuring that things happen even with minimal resources.
  • komorebi (Japanese, noun): The sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees.
  • saudade (Portuguese, noun): A vague, constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.

This reminded me of a great Twitter thread I saw recently from a linguistic anthropologist, with some important questions of language, culture, power — and how dictionaries can standardize / reinforce imbalances or artificial barriers with language.

That is so true, dictionaries don’t capture the nuance. Props to linguistic anthropologists for shedding light on it.

I ended up putting together a compendium of my favorite words, some with random poetic responses added, but mostly just a nice big curated list.

So sweet, so wordly. It’d be cool to see an updated Phrontistery that goes beyond the borders of the English language, and also plays in poetry or other literary forms. Dictionaries are rigid things.

Per the above mention of untranslatable words in various languages…found this site recently that has a pretty nice database of such words!

It’s got 500+ words, across 70-some languages. And various tags that let you filter by the type/theme of the words (e.g. beauty, growth, nature, action, feeling…)

From the about page, looks like German is on top for # of words represented (not particularly surprising I guess), followed by Japanese and English.

(Only tangentially related but the name of the site, “eunoia”, is itself a wonderful word…it means something like “beautiful thinking”, goodwill or receptivity cultivated between speaker and audience. Also the shortest English word containing all five vowels. And the title of one of the most impressive poetic feats ever, Christian Bök’s book of the same name.)