Top 43 Crazy Words in English (and what they mean)



As UX writers, our job is to deliver our message clearly and concisely. But this doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun now and then. Since we’re about to hit the milestone of 10K students in our Intro to UX Writing course, we thought we’d celebrate by having some word-nerd fun.

 

Here are our favorite crazy, rare, or downright wacky words in English. Just don’t rush to use them in your interface. 

A Spanish Alcazar

1) Alcazar — If you think this sounds like the name of a dragon or a wizard from a fantasy novel, you’re not that far off. Alcazar means a Spanish fortress or palace of Moorish origin. The word comes from the Arabic for castle, al-qaṣr.

2) Cabotage — No, it’s not the latest in fine Bavarian cuisine. Coming from the French for “travel along the coast,” and perhaps tracing back to the Spanish cabo for coast, cabotage is all about the right to engage in the transport of goods in a country or territory.

3) Chiliad — Pronounced KILL-ee-ad, this word comes from the Greek for a thousand. In today’s English, it means 1000 of something or 1000 years. For whatever reason, the Latin word millennium became more popular, and chiliad is now quite rare.

4) Doodlesack — Don’t even try to guess this one. Doodlesack comes from the German Dudelsack and is just another word for bagpipes. This raises the question: do we really need two ways to say bagpipes? Some would argue that one is already too many. 🙉

5) Doozy —  Here’s one you’re likely to be familiar with; a doozy is something extraordinary and often problematic. But it remains an etymological mystery tracing perhaps to a daisy, a car from the ‘20s, or even an Italian actress. We may never know its true origins.

6) Dudgeon — This is a feeling of anger or resentment and today is mostly used in the phrase in high dudgeon. Dudgeon traces back to the 16th century at least, but before that it’s origins are fuzzy.

7) Finifugal — This one supposedly means hating or trying to avoid endings. It’s so rare that you won’t find it in any dictionary. The word was coined by L. A. Tollemache in a passage about how classical writers “disliked the idea of sunset, and recoiled from the end of everything.” Feel free to use it—just don’t expect to be understood. 😅

Teacher and students in recorder class

8) Fipple — A fipple is the mouthpiece of a recorder or of similar, flute-like instruments. (Think back to the shrill cacophony of 5th-grade music class.) And if you’re thinking that fipple is a portmanteau of flute and nipple, well, you would be mistaken (but I like the way you think). Fipple likely traces back to the Icelandic word flipi, meaning a horse’s lip. 

9) Gabelle — From the Arabic qabāla meaning bail or tribute, through Italian and then French, gabelle was a tax on salt in pre-Revolutionary France.

10) Glamping — Not all the best words are old and stuffy—here’s a modern invention. Add a little glamor to your camping, and there you have it. Enjoy nature while still updating your Instagram.

11) Gobbledygook — Here’s another relatively recent addition to English, coined by a US politician in the 1940s. Meaning wordy or unintelligible jargon, gobbledygook is supposedly based on the sound a turkey makes. Gobble gobble! 🦃

12) Gubbins — Gubbins are a bunch of unimportant stuff that is probably cluttering up your desk right now. Coming from the Old French for piece, gubbins was once used for parts or scraps of fish. Yummy.

13) Highfalutin’ — This word starts as US slang and means pompous or pretentious, especially for language usage. It pairs well with gobbledygook. Origins are unknown, but suggestions are that it comes from high-flying, high-flown, or even fluting.

Old-time barroom fight scene--a big kerfuffle

14) Kerfuffle — Here’s one that just rolls off the tongue. Kerfuffle means a commotion usually caused by an argument or disagreement. It was first used in Scottish English and may trace back to Scottish Gaelic. Either way, it’s fun to say!

15) Lamprophony — Another ultra-rare word; don’t go looking for it in Merriam-Webster. It comes from the Greek for clear (lamprós) and voice or sound (phōnḗ), and means loudness and clarity of voice. Just be careful using it or you might come across as a bit highfalutin’. 😉

16) Lollygag — While the current meaning of the word is clear—to waste time or be lazy—the origins are hotly contested. Some claim an Irish Gaelic origin, while other sources hint at a racy past. Lollygag may have once been Grandma’s word for sexy-time.

17) Namby-pamby — This term is used for things that are overly sentimental or lacking in substance, weak or insipid. Here, the origins are well known. 18th century English poet Henry Carey satirized fellow poet Ambrose Philips’ style in the former’s 1725 poem Namby Pamby.

18) Outro — An outro is just what it sounds like, the opposite of an intro. Back in the day, it was all the rage—every song on the radio just seemed to fade away at the end. Now, feel free to apply outro to more than just disco hits.

19) Poppycock — Poppycock is a bit like gobbledygook: nonsense language devoid of meaning. This one probably comes from the Dutch pappekak with pap meaning soft and kak meaning dung or excrement. And now you know.

several reams of paper stacked

20) Quire — A quire is one-twentieth of a ream, obviously. And a ream, you ask? That’s 500 sheets of paper making a quire equivalent to 25 sheets. It can also mean a single sheet folded into four. The etymology on this one is no surprise; it comes from the Latin quaterni meaning a set of four.

21) Quomodocunquizing — Here’s one that doesn’t just roll off the tongue. Said to mean something “that makes money in any possible way,” this word was used exactly once, back in the 17th century. Today, quomodocunquizing is mostly found in lists on the internet of strange words in English (so meta).

22) Whiffler — This is a word you never knew you needed until you found out it exists. A whiffler used to be someone who clears people out of the way for a procession. It goes back to the Old English word wifel meaning battle axe. Well, that’s one way to clear a crowd.

23) Woebegone — This word comes from Middle and Old English for surrounded by woe. And its meaning hasn’t changed much since then, describing something in a sorrowful or pitiful state. Feel free to use woebegone if you want to sound a little fancy-shmancy. 

24) Yahoo — No, not the internet company. That’s Yahoo! (with an exclamation point). Yahoo goes all the way back to 1726 when it was coined in the book Gulliver’s Travels, where it was used as the name of a brutish race of people. Today it can be used to mean a rude or violent person, or as an interjection to express excitement.

close up of a zyzzyva

25) Zyzzyva — To finish our list, we’ll go all the way to the final word in the dictionary. A zyzzyva is a species of weevil, which are beetles with elongated snouts. (Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.) Supposedly named by an Irishman as a practical joke, I’m guessing a few pints of Guinness were involved in the naming of this cuddly little guy. Cheers!

There you have it—our top 25 CRAZY words in English. But wait a second, didn’t we say there were going to be 43? Well, we’re still working on it but we need your help. Send us your favorite crazy words, and we’ll add them to the list!

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