An employee or assistant who does just about everything.

Factotum comes the Latin fac ("to make or do," as in the benefactor who "does good") and totum ("everything") -- and is a relative of words such as total.

"I'd like you to meet Rodney, our office factotum."




A state of nervous irritability; the fidgets; the willies.

This word has been around since the 1830s. Nobody's quite sure where it came from, although some conjecture that it may be playfully adapted from the English term fantigue, meaning "fit of bad temper."

"Oh gosh, these marathon midafternoon meetings always give me the fantods!"




Weak, helpless, ineffectual, futile.

This word comes from Scotland (where its opposite, feckful, means "efficient, vigorous, powerful"). Feckless comes from the Scots dialect term feck, a shortened version of the word effect.

"The bouquets, the truffles, the wine, the fancy dinners all proved feckless--but then he discovered her secret weakness for paintings of dogs playing poker."




A freckle.

Need a synonym for freckle? There's always fernticle, which arose from an imagined resemblance between these spots of pigment and "little fern seeds."

"You can't miss him -- he's the one with all the fernticles."




1. A garland hung from two points and sagging slightly in the middle.

2. To drape with festoons.

A linguistic relative of feast, festival, and fiesta, the festive word festoon was adapted from Italian festone, meaning "a decoration for a feast." (Speaking of feasting, festoon is also a term used in modern dentistry to denote "the garlandlike area of the gums surrounding the necks of teeth.")

"And then we'll festoon Uncle Ned's living room with rainbow crepe paper before he gets home."




The pendulous upper lips of certain dogs, such as bloodhounds.

The origin of flews is unknown, though somehow it seems more than apt.

"'No, no, I really do like your dog, but I was trying to avoid getting hit by what just flew from those flews."





The categorizing of something as worthless.

Whatever you think about Senator Jesse Helms, you have to admit he said a mouthful when using this word. Referring to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which Helms deems worthless, the North Carolina senator reportedly said, "I note your distress at my floccinaucinihilipilification of the CTBT."

A legitimate word? Yes indeed. In fact, it's the longest in the Oxford English Dictionary's first edition. This word comes from the Latin flocci, nauci, and pili, all of which roughly translate as "worth very little," and nihil, meaning "nothing." By the way, at its most literal, the pili in floccinaucinihilipilification refers to "a hair, [and therefore] a trifle" -- making it a linguistic relative of the hair-remover called a depilatory. The nihil, or "nothing," in floccinaucinihilipilification appears in such words as nihilistic and annihilate.

It's a word that's apparently pretty popular around Washington these days. Sen. Helms said he learned the word from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and former presidential spokesman Mike McCurry has also been known to use it while briefing the press.

"I don't care if last night's ratatouille had you reaching for the Rolaids -- I'm shocked, shocked at your floccinaucinihilipilification of my cooking skills!"




A snowflake.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists only one instance of this word's use, in a manuscript produced around 1275. But flother sounds so light and delicate and flake-like that it certainly seems worth reviving.

"After all, no two flothers are alike."




Meaningless chatter; deceptive language.

This derisive word comes from the Welsh llymru, the name of a soft jelly made from sour oatmeal.

"Enough flummery, Smithers -- what's your point?"




To talk or act foolishly; to waste time.

Consult several dictionaries, and you'll find all kinds of proposed sources for this word, from Latin futuere ("to have sex with") to footy (a Northern British dialectal term for "worthless" or "paltry.")

Lest we footle further, let's just settle for the verdict of the Oxford English Dictionary: "Of obscure origin."

"Darling, promise me you won't footle at the office party this year."




No, not what you think! It means "an abnormal sensation that ants are crawling over one's skin."

Formication is the product of Latin formica, or "ant."

(But don't worry: There aren't any linguistic ants in your Formica kitchen countertop. Formica plastic laminate was invented in 1912 as a type of insulation for electrical wiring, and quickly replaced mica, the natural substance that had been used for this purpose. Its inventors called this new synthetic material Formica because it was a substitute for mica.)

"Do you suppose Salvador Dali painted those because he had a little problem with formication?"




1.Dazzling, flashing.

2. Thunderous, noisy, stunning.

The Latin word for "lightning" is fulgur, which gave us the French synonym foudre, as well as foudroyant -- literally, "striking with (or like) lightning." (Foudroyant is also used in medicine to describe a disease that strikes with sudden severity.)

"Well, I have absolutely no idea what that halftime extravaganza was all about--but you have to admit it certainly was foudroyant."




To 'thunder'; to denounce scathingly.

Strictly speaking, the root of this word, Latin fulmen, means "lightning," not "thunder." In the Middle Ages, Latin fulminare was the technical term for a formal condemnation or censure by the pope or other church authority. Now, however, anyone is free to fulminate.

"First he fulminates against Tinky Winky, and now Lillith Fair - doesn't that poor fellow have anything better to do?"




A fly ball hit for fielding practice by a baseball player who tosses the ball up and hits it on its way down.

The origin of fungo is unknown - but then, isn't it nice to know there's a word for it?

"Fungo by fungo, they continued to practice, oblivious to the gathering storm."


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