Words for the Week

Hello again, folks! Welcome to another episode of Words for the Week, which happens every Sunday. I have so many books full of great words, and I so rarely have an excuse to delve into them. So I’m putting together a small selection of these lovely words once a week, in the hope that you enjoy them as much as I do. And for a little more interest, I’m going through the alphabet! So this week’s words begin with ‘E’. 

Elephantry (noun): Troops mounted on elephants.

David Crystal notes that “other animals to have served in wars include troop-carrying camels, messenger dogs and mine-clearing giant rats”. When you know what it means, it’s an obvious word. But I’m just completely delighted that it exists at all.

Exsibilate (verb): To hiss off the stage; to reject with a hissing sound.

I like this word for two reasons. One, it’s evocative in its onomatopoeia. And two, it’s a welcome development on the word ‘sibilance’ which, while lovely in its own right, is a little too commonly invoked in discussions of good words. This is ‘sibilance’ for a purpose, with direction, and I really like that.

Ernful (adjective or adverb): Kent, Sussex. Sad, lamentable, sorrowful. A clear link to ‘yearn’, which had an adjective form ‘yernful’ in the nineteenth century.

I think what this word does which is really special is something that works beyond the definition of the words used in the definition. It captures not only sadness that a thing should be, but also a wish that things were better. That sense of the word ‘yearning’ is still in there for me, and it goes further than ‘sorrowful’, for example, in stretching out towards that alternate life in which this sad thing is not the case.

Endolphins (noun): Poetic. Swimmers’ slang for the natural opiates (‘endorphins’) released by the body on contact with cold water. Credited to Roger Deakin.

Firstly, let me take the opportunity to say that if you have any interest in nature writing, you should pick up some Roger Deakin. And I really love this word. Fun, a little bit childish, with that connection to water, it functions perfectly for the swimmer-specific experience of endorphins.

Epibreren (noun): Dutch. Unspecified activities which give the appearance of being busy and important in the workplace.

I am guilty of this. I think we are all guilty of this. And look at that, guys. The Dutch language is calling you out. I am surprised that there isn’t a word for this in English – it’s beyond the simple avoidance of procrastination, because you’re trying to prove not just to yourself but to your colleagues that you are, in fact, doing what you should be, when nothing could be further from the truth.

This week’s words were sourced from Foyle’s Philavery, collected by Christopher Foyle; The Greeks Had A Word For It by Andrew Taylor; Landmarks by Robert McFarlane; The Disappearing Dictionary by David Crystal.


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