Uncommon Vocabulary in English


Words Related to ‘Sleep’

  1. Lychnobite = one who works at night and sleeps during the day.
  2. Hypnopompic = pertaining to the semi-conscious state before waking.
  3. Diurnation = the habit of sleeping or being dormant during the day.
  4. Soporose = sleepy; in an unusually deep sleep.


Words Related to ‘Colour’ as ‘Metaphors’

  1. Purple Prose = an overly ornate piece of writing (also called ‘Purple Passage’ and ‘Purple Patch’).
  2. Red Brick = lacking prestige (Antonym of this is ‘Ivy League’ which means having a high prestige and a reputation for scholastic achievement).
  3. Cordon Bleu = of the highest class; a person of great distinction in a field, esp, applied to chef.
  4. White Shoe = pertaining to a business or those who run it, typically conservative, rich and elite, in fields such as law, finance, etc. (from the earlier popularity of white shoes among such men).
  5. Blue Streak = something moving very fast; a rapid and seemingly endless stream of words.


Miscellaneous Words

  1. Kerfuffle = a commotion.
  2. Jobbernowl = a blockhead, stupid.
  3. Supererogatory = going beyond the call of duty; superfluous.
  4. Mooch = to get something from someone instead of buying it yourself.
  5. Nelly = a silly person
  6. Lobola = (in South Africa) a payment given to a woman’s father in return for permission to marry her.
  7. Vilipend = to treat someone with contempt; to disparage.
  8. Pootle = to spend time doing things that you enjoy but that are not important.
  9. Poncy (also Poncey) = expensive or high quality; an insulting way of describing a man who behaves in a way that seems more typical of a woman.
  10. Puerperal = during or relating to the time when a woman gives birth to a baby.
  11. Flunky (also Flunkey) = an insulting word for someone who is always keen to please or obey more powerful people; an insulting word for someone who does unimportant work.
  12. Blandishments = pleasant things you do or say about someone in order to persuade or influence them.
  13. Blarney = a friendly way of talking to people and saying nice things about them that makes it easy to persuade people to do what you want.
  14. Black Leg = someone who continues to work when the other people they work with are on strike. This word shows you do not approve of people who do this.
  15. Quadridecennial = 14 years.
  16. Superficies = outer surface or appearance of something or someone.
  17. Interpellate = to question formally, an official, a member of government, etc.
  18. Adscititious = derived from outside; external; additional.
  19. Serotine = late in occurring, forming or flowering.


‘Newly-Coined’ Words

  1.  Chav = a youth whose behaviour is marked by ignorance, aggression, and a fondness for jewelry and clothing.
  2. Commentariat = the group of people who provide opinion and analysis of events in the news. (A ‘portmanteau’ word formed by blending ‘Commentator’ + ‘Proletariat.’
  3. Adultescent = an adult whose activities and interests are typically associated with youth culture. (Another term for this is ‘tween.’)
  4. Carbon-neutral = adding no net carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.





‘Borrowed’ Words

  1. Kahuna = a priest or a medicine man; an important person. (Other synonyms for this word are ‘Panjandrum’ and ‘Prima Donna’).
  2. Monicker = a person’s name or nickname.
  3. Catamaran = a boat with two parallel hulls, joined by a frame; a quarrelsome person, esp. a woman.
  4. Lahar = an avalanche-like mudflow composed of volcanic debris and water, originating on the slopes of a volcano.


Words with no “L”

  1. Jabberwocky = meaningless speech or writing
  2. Excursive = tending to wander off; rambling.
  3. Dysphagia = difficulty in swallowing
  4. Kafkaesque = complex or illogical in a bizarre, surreal, or nightmarish manner.
  5. Anthropomorphize = to attribute human qualities to things not human.


‘Medical’ Words

  1. Sternutation = the act of sneezing or a sneeze.
  2. Idiopathy = a disease of unknown origin or one having no apparent cause.
  3. Nosology = the branch of medical science that deals with classification of diseases; a systematic classification or list of diseases.
  4. Otorhinolaryngology (or Otolaryngology) = the branch of medicine that deals with the ear, nose, and throat (ENT).
  5. Sequela = a pathological condition resulting from a previous disease or injury.
  6. Lobotomy = a medical operation in which part of someone’s brain is removed as a way of treating serious mental illness.


Words related to ‘Food’

  1. Cibarious = relating to food; edible.
  2. Jentacular = relating to breakfast.
  3. Macaronic = involving a mixture of languages.
  4. Xerophagy = the eating of dry food, esp. food that’s cooked without oil.
  5. Verjuice = the sour juice of unripe grapes, crab apples, etc.

‘Yiddish’ Words

  1. Schnook = a stupid, easily deceived person.
  2. Megillah = a long, tedious account.
  3. Schnorrer = one who habitually takes advantage of others’ generosity, often through an air of entitlement.
  4. Schlump = a dull or slovenly person.
  5. Meshuga or Meshugga = crazy, stupid.
  6. Shtick or Schtick or Schtik = a performer’s routine or gimmick; one’s special trait, interest or talent.
  7. Schlub (also spelled as Zhlub or Zhlob) = a clumsy oaf.
  8. Schmooze, Schmoose, or Schmoos = to chat, esp. in order to gain an advantage or to make a social or business connection with an influential person; a gossipy or ingratiating chat.
  9. Maven = an expert, connoisseur, enthusiast.
  10. Yenta = a busybody or gossip.


‘14 Letter’ Words


  1. Tintinnabulate = to ring; to tinkle.
  2. Tinctumutation = change of colour
  3. Brobdingnagian = of gigantic size
  4. Circumbendibus = circumlocution
  5. Acritochromacy = colour blindness


Words related to ‘Beard’

  1. Pogonotrophy = growing of a beard
  2. Sideburns = hair grown on the sides of a man’s face, when worn with an unbearded chin (named after Ambrose Everett Burnside, who served as a General in the Union Army in the American Civil War. The term ‘Burnsides’ morphed into ‘sideburns,’ as such a facial pattern was on the sides of a face).
  3. Dundrearies = long flowing sideburns.
  4. Vandyke or Van Dyke = a short, pointed beard (generally ‘V-shaped’; named after painter Anthony Van Dyck or Vandyke, who painted portraits of people having these V-shaped beards).
  5. Bluebeard = a man who marries and kills one wife after another (named after Bluebeard, the nickname of the protagonist in a fairy tale by Charles Perrault, who had a blue beard).
  6. Jericho = a place out of the way; an unspecified place; a place of concealment


Words Related to Animals

  1. Cat’s Paw = someone used as a tool by another; a kind of knot used to connect a rope to an object (derived from the fable in which a monkey uses a cat to pull roasting chestnuts from a fire. The monkey gobbles up all the nuts while the cat is left with a burnt paw).
  2. Cat call =a loud whistling sound that someone in an audience or a crowd makes to show that they do not like a person or a performance.
  3. Catatonic = unable to move or control your movements as a result of illness or shock.
  4. Cat burglar = a thief who gets into buildings by climbing up walls.
  5. Cat and mouse = a situation in which you let someone else believe that they have managed to escape, before you actually catch them.
  6. Cash Cow = a product or business that earns a lot of money, esp. when this money is used to pay for something else.
  7. Elephantine = very large, slow, and not graceful
  8. Donkey’s Years = a very long time.
  9. Donkey work = boring work that needs a lot of effort but has to be done as part of a job.
  10. Donkey Jacket = a short coat made of thick dark wool, usually with a piece of leather or plastic on each shoulder (often worn by people who do outdoor work).
  11. Cock and bull story = a story that is silly and difficult to believe.
  12. Cockamamie = silly or impossible to understand
  13. Cockcrow = the very early morning when it begins to get light
  14. Cock-eyed = silly and not practical; not straight or level; crooked.
  15. Cock-a-hoop = pleased and proud about something you have done.
  16. Chick flick = a film intended esp. for women, often about a romantic relationship.
  17. Sheep’s Eyes = shy amorous glances.
  18. Mare’s Nest = a confused mess; a hoax or an illusory discovery.
  19. Lion’s Share = largest part; chunk of the share.
  20. Dog’s Chance = slim chance
  21. Snail’s Pace = very slow pace
  22. Dog-eared = folded, damaged, or torn sides/edges/corners of a book.
  23. Dogsbody = someone who is forced to do all the jobs that no one else wants to do.
  24. Dog-tired = extremely tired
  25. Dog days = the hottest days of the year
  26. Dog collar = a white stiff round collar worn by priests in the Christian Church; a tight decorated band that you wear around your neck as a decoration.
  27. Dogfight = a situation in which people argue or compete, esp. in an unpleasant way; a fight between military aircraft.
  28. Doe-eyed = having big, attractive eyes and looking as if not having much experience of life.
  29. Horse Trading = difficult and sometimes dishonest discussions between people who are trying to reach an agreement.
  30. Foxtrot = a dance done by two people together in which some slow steps are followed by some quick steps.


Whose What?

  1. Shank’s mare = one’s own legs. (Also know as ‘Shank’s pony’).
  2. Widow’s peak = a ‘V-shaped’ hairline at the centre top of the forehead.
  3. Curate’s egg = something having both good and bad parts.
  4. Friar’s Lantern = a phosphorescent light seen over marshy ground at night, caused by spontaneous combustion of gases emitted by decomposing organic matter. (Another term for this is ‘foxfire’).
  5. Busman’s holiday = a holiday spent doing things as at work.
  6. Buggin’s turn = assignment to a position based on seniority or rotation, instead of merit. (Also ‘Buggins’s turn’).
  7. Job’s Comforter = a person who tries to console or help someone who not only fails but also ends up making the person feel worse.
  8. Pandora’s Box = a source of many unforeseen troubles.
  9. Buckley’s Chance = no chance at all, or only a very slim chance. (Also called “Buckley’s and none” or “Buckley’s hope”).
  10. Pele’s Hair = thin strands of volcanic glass, formed when lava is thrown into the air by the explosion of a volcano. (Named after ‘Pele,’ the Hawaiian Goddess of fire and volcanoes).




  1. Adamite = a nudist (after the name of some Christian sects who professed to imitate the first human, Adam, in not wearing any clothes); a human being; a mineral (Zinc Arsenate Hydroxide) usually yellow and green in colour (named after mineralogist, Gilbert Joseph Adam).
  2. Bunyanesque = gigantic; of or relating to the legends of the fictional hero, Paul Bunyan; of or relating to the allegorical style of the author Paul Bunyan.
  3. Roscian = of or relating to acting (named after Quintus Roscius Gallus, a Roman actor famous for his talent in acting).

In Roscius’ honour, accomplished actors are sometimes called ‘Roscius.’

  1. Hermeneutic = interpretative or explanatory (named after Hermes in Greek mythology, who served as a messenger and herald for other gods, and who himself was god of eloquence, commerce, invention, cunning, and theft).
  2. Galen = a physician (named after Galen, a famous Greek physician in the 2nd century. He pioneered the study of anatomy).



Words Relating to ‘Eyes’

1.      Spectral = pertaining to a light energy spectrum, usually the visible spectrum; pertaining to a ghost, wraith, or apparition.

2.      Cataract = a clouding of the naturally occurring crystalline lens; a waterfall.

3.      Dendriform = in the shape of a tree.

4.      Vitreous = the clear, glassy, sticky inner substance of the eye; glassy.

5.      Iris (pl. irisces, irides) = the pigmented tissue of the eye in the centre of which is the opening called the pupil; a rainbow; a showy, flowering plant.


Words to Discover

  1. Froufrou = something fancy, elaborate and showy; a rustling sound, as of a silk dress.
  2. Bilabial = using both lips (A bilabial sound or consonant, for example, ‘p,’ ‘b,’ ‘m,’ where both lips touch each other, and ‘w’ in which lips are rounded).
  3. Scintillescent = sparkling or twinkling.
  4. Rapparee = an Irish guerrilla fighter in the late 17th century; any freebooter or robber.
  5. Vetitive = relating to a veto; having the power to forbid.


Source: Compiled by P. Mohan Chandran with help from www.wordsmith.org and ‘Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners.’


7 thoughts on “Uncommon Vocabulary in English

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