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Words That Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Die

October 29, 2010

From the Department of Scary Statistics, we get the report that the average 15 to 24 year old now spends an average of eight minutes a day reading.  Yes, reading.  Not only that, one third of US teenagers send over 100 text messages a day and people aged 8 to 18 now spend 7.5 hours per day interacting with an electronic device such as a cell phone, computer, iPod or TV.  And because they multitask they actually are getting something like 11 hours of media “exposure” in those 7.5 hours. 

A lot of people think that this is wonderful and inevitable and that people like me, who wonder if it’s really all that wonderful, are reactionary Luddites who should get with the program. 

Maybe, but recently I’ve found that I’m having increasing difficulty communicating with technophiles.  Partly that’s because they never look up from their cell phones, but also it’s because of an increasing divergence in world view and communication techniques.  I’m not just talking about the fact that they don’t have a historical or literary frame of reference or think that Thor is really just a comic book character.

I’m talking about words which are rapidly falling into disuse.  Every year someone publishes an article about new words that have come into the lexicon.  Words like tweet, and unfriend.  But no one talks about the very rich words that are being forgotten as communication increases exponentially in volume while decreasing equally exponentially in content. 

With that in mind, I’ve pulled together a list of words that should not be allowed to die.  Of course there are a lot more words on the endangered list, but this is a sampler.  Because some of them may already be obscure, I’ve given the definition.  And for the benefit of the many Gen Y people who regularly read this blog, I’ve included an example of how the word can be used in daily conversation.  Here goes:

Behoovev. Although some people may think this means getting a new pair of Boho boots, it actually means necessary, proper or advantageous.  Is it applicable today?  You betcha:  “Amber, I saw the pics from your party out on Facebook.  It might behoove you to take them down before you apply for a job.”

Desuetuden. Discontinuance from use.  A description of the words we are talking about, and this word should be kept alive because technological change demands its use, as in: “Ever since I got my iPad, my iPod and phone have so fallen into desuetude.”

Euthenicsn. A science that deals with development of human well-being by improvement of living conditions.  I admit, there is a bit of snob appeal to this word because a lot of people won’t know if you are talking about ‘eugenics’ or ‘euthanasia’ and think that it’s time for a moral argument.  But no one in their right mind would be against ‘euthenics.’  As in, “I’m so into euthenics.  I mean, imagine if everyone had an iPad.”

Hebetatev. To make dull or obtuse.  “OMG this teacher is so boring he actually hebetates sex education!”

Ineluctableadj. Not to be avoided, changed or resisted; inevitable.  “Josh and I are so going to the Prom together.  It’s like totally ineluctable.” 

Jejuneadj. Lacking interest or significance, lacking maturity.  “OMG, if her Tweets get any more jejune I’ll have to stop following Paris Hilton.”

Mountebankn. A person who sells quack medicines from a platform; a boastful, unscrupulous pretender.  You may have noticed that in the blogosphere you can’t always tell the mountebanks from the real experts.  Your friend may say, “Some mountebank sold me this fake Gucci bag on eBay.”

Nugatoryadj. Of little or no consequence, trifling, inconsequential, having no force.   “My mother said she would ground me if I go to the concert next week.  And I’m like, ‘Mom, that’s totally nugatory.’”

Pusillanimousadj. Lacking courage and resolution, marked by contemptible timidity.  As in “Josh broke up with me by sending a text.  I mean, how pusillanimous can you get?”

Perspicacityn. Acute mental vision or discernment.  “Well, Josh finally got the perspicacity to dump her.”

Quotidiann. Occurring every day; routine.  Another word whose appeal comes in part from it not sounding anything like what it means.  As in “Downloading iPhone Apps from Apple’s Apps store has gotten to be so quotidian.”

Reconditeadj. Hidden from sight; incomprehensible to one of ordinary understanding or knowledge.  “Have you seen Grand Theft Auto IV?  Some of the new features are totally recondite, man.”

Please join me in using these words and saving them from extinction.  Now that you know what they mean, prevent verbal desuetude by, in your quotidian conversations, demonstrating your perspicacity by using these words.  It is not ineluctable that you will hebetate your conversation and the risk of being branded a mountebank is nugatory.  Only jejune and pusillanimous people won’t appreciate your recondite efforts at euthenics!  It behooves them to get a dictionary!

37 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2010 12:12 am

    Thanks for giving these obscure words some exposure, Tom! I knew “behoove,” “jejune”, and “perspicacity” (although I’ve never used them in conversation!). Have you seen this website?

    Love the photo of the teenager rolling her eyes!


    • October 30, 2010 8:24 am

      Thanks for the link–that’s a great site!

    • November 8, 2010 10:27 pm

      i love your last paragraph. Some of those words came up in a professional writing course I did as examples of words falling out of use some years ago.
      Perhaps it could become a code of sorts for a particular gen on word press !
      I like the idea of collecting obscure unused words.
      I had fun with a three year old who heard ‘bamboozled’ in one of his books, it became all manner of expressions and meanings as he repeated the word in an endless variation .

      • November 9, 2010 3:10 pm

        Thanks for the comment–and for another good post idea–words that should stay alive because of the fun way they sound. Bamboozle definitely qualifies. I like “indefatigable,” too.

  2. October 30, 2010 12:19 am

    It’s a good thing you didn’t start with the last paragraph first and tell me to look up all the words I didn’t know in the dictionary like so many teachers have done in the past. I’d still be busy.

    • October 30, 2010 8:25 am

      I remember doing that. But have you noticed how small the print has gotten in dictionaries??

      • October 30, 2010 9:06 am

        I’ve noticed the small print as well and my fifty year old eyes struggle to read it. Have you noticed how big the dictionaries are these days. I found an early 1900’s dictionary that is only about 8″x4″ by 1 ” thick. Where did all those words come from?

  3. October 30, 2010 4:45 am

    I think the words might get more use if you came up with versions kids could use in text messages, like bhuv and hebet8 and “idian.

    • October 30, 2010 8:31 am

      G8 idea! I found this web site ( ) that translates normal language in to text language and input my last paragraph–here is the result, they aren’t as cr8tv as you! :

      Now dat UNo w@ dey mean, avoid verbal desuetude by, n yr quotidian convos, demonstrating yr perspicacity by UzN deez wrds. itz nt ineluctable dat Ull hebetate yr QSO n d risk of bn branded a mountebank S nugatory. 1ly jejune n pusillanimous ppl won’t aprec8 yr recondite ef4Tz @ euthenics! It behooves em 2 gt a dictionary

  4. October 30, 2010 5:00 am

    I am sad to say I was only familiar with five of those words, and use only one of them (perspicacity) commonly.

  5. October 30, 2010 8:07 am

    I had a happy moment the other day. An acquaintance very comfortably used the word “crepuscular” in a conversation, and I batted the ball back over the net with “noctilucent”!

  6. October 30, 2010 11:53 am

    perspicacity I may have heard but not certain. Jejune won’t go out of style b/c people love to puke out random French words in sentences. And I wasn’t aware behoove was in danger, I’ve heard that word all my life.
    Fun w/ true stories: A couple visits ago to my therapist, I spoke about how I wasn’t particularly effusive. She was like huh. To which I replied perhaps I was mistaken in my wording So she hauls out the dictionary. I began doubting myself, but yep, I said it right. I said I sometimes use longer words I’ve heard cause I like to write…some polite excuse. My good lady therapist in a convivial, intelligent soul, but not an English major. But then, since I was ignorant of the majority of those words, it’s obvious I ain’t either. Awesome post!

  7. October 31, 2010 7:13 am

    This is great! Thanks for sharing. I’ll try to make my use of better vocabulary more quotidian.

  8. Philippe permalink
    October 31, 2010 3:36 pm

    A humongous posting, if not awesome.

  9. October 31, 2010 8:57 pm

    Thor? I don’t even know the comic book character, let alone the other one. So you’re saying there are two Thors?

    Reading has been a fad, a blip on the radar, and like all fads, it’ll come to an end. For most of recorded history, most people didn’t read at all. Then the printing press was invented, and for a few centuries there’s been a bit of a book reading frenzy. That’s all. Now we’re bored with the printing press, and so we’re slowly reverting to our natural state of not-reading. Nothing to be concerned about.

    Instead of holding on to old words that are falling into desuetude, let’s just make up new words. Keeps the language fresh. Yesterday, for instance, I came up with disconsider and de-dullify faster than I could look up their already existing synonyms in the dictionary.

    Who’s the blonde on the picture? Sure, she’s looking up, but there’s a little too much white showing in her eyeballs. Looks like an an incipient thyroid condition. Since she has a cell phone, do you happen to have her number so I can call her to let her know she needs to get her T-3 and T-4 checked?

    My concern is of a purely medical nature, of course.

  10. October 31, 2010 9:07 pm

    With respect to keeping the language fresh, I can’t refudiate anything you say.

    • November 1, 2010 5:16 am

      Word creation is fascinating. Here’s the entry for dord:

      1934, a ghost word printed in “Webster’s New International Dictionary” and defined as a noun used by physicists and chemists, meaning “density.” In sorting out and separating abbreviations from words in preparing the dictionary’s second edition, a card marked “D or d” meaning “density” somehow migrated from the “abbreviations” stack to the “words” stack. The “D or d” entry ended up being typeset as a word, dord , and defined as a synonym for density. The mistake was discovered in 1939.

      • November 1, 2010 6:53 am

        I can believe that. I heard once, probably an urban legend that someone found a new species of bug and put it in a jar that had a label on it and the bug is now known by whatever the label was. Also, I’ve heard that ‘Jeep’ got it’s name because original army jeeps were technically called “general purpose trucks” which got shortened to GP and then to Jeep.

        Regarding your earlier comment, today I got an elbow support band and the instructions say “do not wear if discomfortable.”

        • November 1, 2010 4:14 pm

          There may exist a subtle distinction between uncomfortable and discomfortable, similar to uninterested versus disinterested:

          comfortable = feels good
          uncomfortable = painful
          discomfortable = can’t feel it at all

          So when your elbow support becomes discomfortable, it could be a sign that your arm has gone numb.

  11. November 1, 2010 9:43 pm

    I will make it my mission to use all these words as much as possible. They are fab.

  12. November 1, 2010 11:40 pm

    I love this post! I keep a notepad with me at all times and if I find a word that I don’t know, or love and don’t use often enough I’ll write it down in the book. After a few days I’ll enter them all into a Word document titled ‘Words that I love.’ I’ll then attempt to use those words at least twice during the week. It’s becoming harder the older I get though….

    I wrote down quite a few off of your list, by the way!

  13. November 2, 2010 7:31 am

    This is an awesome post. I’ve always been afraid of the word “euthenics,” but now that I know all I have to say is: ““I’m so into euthenics. I mean, imagine if everyone had an iPad,” I feel more empowered.

    I could use the perspicacity to stop drunk-texting my ex-boyfriend.

    My brain hurts now.

  14. November 5, 2010 11:50 am

    I would like to see “pulchritude” added to the list.

    • November 5, 2010 4:58 pm

      Gladly! If Lady Gaga continues to be the role model for fashion and femininity, the word is not the only thing that will be endangered–so will pulchritude itself.

  15. November 7, 2010 9:18 am

    Late again to the party! How about “peripatetic” and “gewgaws”? Very needed that last one.

    • November 7, 2010 9:51 am

      Very good additions! “My new iGewgaw just so fits with my peripatetic lifestyle.”

  16. November 7, 2010 1:11 pm

    hehe … am wondering too where dead words go to die. The Dead Word Office? Like the Dead Letter Office, only bigger.

  17. November 10, 2010 12:42 am


    Check this out: the word for “to giggle” in Russian is heeheekat’.

  18. March 30, 2011 1:17 pm

    I love the word jejune. I used to use it ten years ago, but nobody ever knew what it meant. I’m going to bring it back.

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