10 English Words You Might Not Know

Do you know the meaning of the words widdly, and hygge? These are just two of the 600+ new words, phrases and senses fresh out of the June 2017 update to the OED.

Like all languages, English is constantly evolving. Estimates vary (and it’s very difficult to agree on an exact number – for example, do you count two different meanings of the same word as two words?), but Oxforddictionaries.com reckons that there are at the very least a quarter of a million distinct words in the English language. Sounds incredible, right?

But how many of us really use the language to its full potential?

A few years ago, researchers from the website testyourvocab.com analysed the results they had gathered from 2 million test-takers. They found that most adult native English test-takers had a vocabulary range of between 20,000 and 35,000 words. For non-native speakers who took the test, the most common vocabulary size was 4,500 words. Note, however, that, as stated on their website, “these statistics are based on self-selected survey participants who are the kind of people who take vocabulary tests on the Internet, and not necessarily representative of the population as a whole”.

However much of a language geek one may be, more and more people these days do have a curiosity for new words. Whether it’s in the hope of sounding smarter, simply for the pleasure of learning a new word even if you will never use it, or to find joy in knowing a word actually exists for a certain concept you feel you should be able to express concisely (is there a word for that specific joy? We think there should be!).

For anyone belonging to the group of those interested in boosting their vocabulary, there is a whole slew of books available (many of them new, following a recent trend), promising to help expand our personal lexicons.


Our shortlist of 10 interesting words

In this article, we’re going to look at ten English words which you might not have heard of. Or have you? If so, then of course you can feel smug and leave a comment letting us know which one you knew: we’d love to hear!

Our picks are taken from the OED’s recent additions, are simply interesting words we like – or are from the book 500 Words You Should Know, by Caroline Taggart – a book which the author says in its introduction she hopes can help “keep logophilia alive and well”. Here’s to that!

Friendly piece of advice: Use new words with caution and careful consideration. We’re not advocating that you replace all your words with the longest or most obscure ones possible, in the hope of sounding more intelligent: you don’t want to end up like Joey from Friends when he tried to do the same with amusing consequences, do you?


Let’s face it, you might sound silly or pretentious trying to shoehorn a few into a sentence that really would be better off without them. We wouldn’t want to see your name among the nominations for the next Plain English Campaign’s Golden Bull award… Clear communication is key!

And, worse, if you’re trying to use one of those extra-long ones, you would frighten anyone suffering from hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia – which is, believe it or not, the fear of long words – or sesquipedalophobia, which is the term recognised in formal writing… hmm, we might just stick to “the fear of long words”, on this one.

But hey, if you can use the words below naturally and help keep them alive and kicking in the process, then we’re all for that! 😊 It’s a good feeling knowing the right word for the right situation… and keeping the richness of our languages alive is important.

  1. Widdly. An adjective describing, in a derogatory way, music that is showy, or over-elaborate. Think lots of long fast electric guitar riffs… You get the idea!
  1. Hygge. Okay, technically this is a Danish word… But it made it to the OED in this recent update after becoming a popular and well-known concept amongst English-speakers. Hygge is all about embracing cosiness and appreciating the small moments in life.
  1. Antediluvian. Meaning, “ridiculously old-fashioned”. Literally, of or belonging to the time before the biblical Flood (which is said to be a while ago, indeed…).
  1. Imprecation. A long word for “swear word”, basically (or “offensive word”).
  1. Doom-monger. A noun indicating someone who “predicts” disasters. In other words, an alarmist, a pessimist taken to the next level. We all have one among our friends, don’t we?
  1. Badinage. This means “humorous or witty conversation”. Arguably the best kind of conversation!
  1. Asperity. A noun meaning “harshness of tone or manner”, or “harsh qualities of conditions”. Sounds a bit like “austerity”, in our opinion. Well, we guess that austerity measures can be considered harsh measures…
  1. Confabulate. A posh way of saying to “engage in conversation”, or “to talk”.
  1. Lambent. Another literary adjective used to describe light or fire, meaning glowing, gleaming, or flickering with a soft radiance. To remember this, think “the lamp was lambent”.
  1. Unconscionable. Literally without a conscience, and therefore “morally unacceptable”. Or simply, unreasonably excessive. “He had to wait an unconscionable amount of time for the customer service representative to get back to him” (not on our watch, by the way!).

There you have it: our list of ten words you just might not have known.

With the next update of the OED scheduled in September (it happens four times a year, every March, June, September and December), we are looking forward to seeing what new words we’ll learn next! 😊


Photo Credit: csy302 via iStock