English is a language of suffixes and prefixes. Take a root word, pile on the building blocks, and you’ve got increasingly long and complex words. “Disestablishmentarianism” is a 24-letter example of the weird English words you create when you do that. It refers to an effort to separate church and state, particularly in the United Kingdom during the 18th century.
Long words aren’t the only weird words in the dictionary. Short words can be pretty weird too. Particularly if you play games like Scrabble and Words With Friends, “zax” should be a favorite. It’s the only three-letter word with a Z and an X, scoring you big points. It’s a tool like a hatchet that you’d use to cut and dress roofing slates.
Be honest with yourself. “Onomatopoeia” is just a fun word to say, which makes sense, as it refers to words that resemble or imitate the sounds they describe. If you’ve ever talked about how a dog “barks” or how an explosion goes “boom,” you’ve used onomatopoeia. It’s a perennial favorite among comic books and children’s books alike.
“Cynanthropy” is the kind of word you need to read at least twice to pronounce correctly. Nope, that’s not “cyan” in the beginning and it has nothing to do with the color blue. And no, that’s not “tropy” at the end either. “Cynanthropy” is the delusion wherein someone believes they have transformed into a dog. If it looks vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s similar to lycanthropy. That’s where werewolves come from.
Weird words got you all perplexed? You might even say that you’re “discombobulated.” That means you’re confused, and possibly even upset or embarrassed over the matter. Stepping into her first theoretical physics class, Janine realized that the subject matter totally discombobulated her.
You’d be forgiven if you mispronounce “segue.” It doesn’t rhyme with “peg” or “ragu.” Realistically, you may have heard it (or even said it yourself) without knowing how to spell it correctly. “Segue,” pronounced “seg-way,” is the seamless transition from one piece of music, film scene, or topic of conversation to another.
Even though “quire” looks like it should have something in common with words with “inquire” or even “esquire,” it probably doesn’t. Originally, a “quire” was four sheets of parchment folded to form eight leaves. This was usually in the context of medieval manuscripts. These days, a quire is either 24 or 25 sheets of paper, representing one-twentieth of a standard ream of paper.
Is this something to do with salacious advertising? Not at all! Or, at least, not necessarily. Adscititious is an adjective meaning that something is additional, extra, or not essential. Learning as many weird English words as you can is certainly not adscititious! It’s integral to bolstering your communication skills!
Is it a rugged muffin? A ragged muffin? A “ragamuffin” is actually neither of those things, though the “ragged” connection holds true. If a person is wearing especially dirty and ragged clothing, you could say they’re a ragamuffin. You’ll mostly commonly use this term to describe children, but you could describe adults this way too.
Sometimes, the weird words in English come from other languages. Other times, they emerge from changes in our everyday lives. Look down at your computer keyboard and you’ll recognize “qwerty” right away. It describes the standard layout of an English language keyboard, defining the first six keys in the top-left corner. Qwerty also happens to be one of the best Q words without a U.
What do the Beastie Boys have against leafy green vegetables? As it turns out, “cabotage” does not refer to sabotage by cabbage or Cabbage Patch Dolls. It’s much more mundane than that. “Cabotage” refers to the transportation of passengers and goods within the same country by an operator from another territory. That includes sea, air and ground transportation.
You might be familiar with this term because of a certain Black Mirror episode. Whereas many other weird words in the dictionary trace a connection back to the real world, this one comes from the world of fiction. A “bandersnatch” is a fictional creature from the 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. Remember Alice in Wonderland?
Here’s a weird word whose definition is even less pleasant than it sounds. You know your cat sometimes gets hairballs? A “bezoar” is a similar kind of thing, except the hair, plant fibers or seeds accumulate in the stomach or intestine of animals. This forms a hard, indigestible mass of material, particularly among grazing herbivores like cattle, goats and deer.
Here we go again, borrowing words from other languages so they just look like weird English words. Originally from the old French word estui, “etui” is a small ornamental case for holding small items like needles. It’s a rather pretty word and you could sound extra sophisticated when you say it… if you pronounce it correctly, of course.
As much as you might want to believe this is a telephone for an idiot, it’s not. An “idiophone” is any musical instrument where you produce sound via its own vibration. That’s without any strings or membranes, so guitars and drums don’t count. Common examples of idiophones include maracas, bells and xylophones.
Depending on who you ask, “Trochilus” could mean one of two things. If you’re more into ancient stories and studying the classics, then Trochilus was the son of Callithyia in Greek mythology. If you’d rather go birdwatching, then Trochilus is a genus of hummingbird. You’ll find these fluttering beauties mostly in Jamaica.
A distant relative of moviemakers Francis Ford or Sofia? Not at all. A “cupola” isn’t an extra big cup of something (“a big ol’ cupola of juice”) either. Instead, it’s a relatively small structure at the top of a building. Usually, a “cupola” is a small dome that sits on top of an even bigger dome. It’s there to let in light and air, or to provide a lookout point.
Yes, slang from gaming culture has infiltrated the official dictionary too. Short for “newbie,” a “noob” is a person who is new to something and thus doesn’t know very much about it. It’s particularly relevant with online and gaming culture, like calling someone a “noob” when they play a game for the first time and don’t know the controls.
Because English borrows words from so many languages, some weird words look like they don’t belong in English at all. “Crwth” is a fine example of an English word without vowels. That’s because it’s technically Welsh. The “W” in there is literally a “double-U” to produce a long U sound. A “crwth” is an ancient Celtic instrument.
Weird words that are fun to say belong in the dictionary just as much as their more everyday counterparts. In the case of “flibbertigibbet,” you’re talking about a person who is especially talkative. They love gossip and are full of whimsy. They could also be silly or scatterbrained.
Even though you might think this has to do with sending some lumpy mashed potatoes back to the kitchen, it doesn’t. Instead, a “badmash” is a rogue or a ruffian. You’ll use this term most often in India to refer to a bad person in general or a criminal in particular.
It’s not terribly often that you’ll find words with three or more vowels in a row like that, but they do pop up now and then. Take “moiety” as a prime example.As a formal noun, “moiety” describes a share or a part, particularly in terms of being one of two equal parts. This is especially relevant in anthropology and chemistry.
Big weird words mean big points in your favorite word games. “Oxyphenbutazone” is the highest scoring word in Words With Friends. Lay that down and, without any bonuses, you’ve got a cool 44 points. Not bad for some type of anti-inflammatory drug! Scientifically speaking -- and you’ll need your fancy white lab coats for this one -- it’s a “metabolite of phenylbutazone.”
A “bandersnatch” is a fictional creature dreamed up by a famous author. A “wobbegong” is a very real creature studied by scientists. It’s a type of bottom-dwelling carpet shark, characterized by flaps of skin around its mouth. There are eight species in all. It may not be the great white shark, but a tasselled wobbegong is way more fun to say.
Not a valedictorian or a veterinarian, a “valetudinarian” is a weak or sickly person. It could also be someone who thinks they are weak and sick all the time, as is the case with hypochondria. That’s the condition where a person is constantly and morbidly worried about having an illness, thinking constantly about their (poor) health.
Weird words have a habit of making you think they mean something different altogether. A “kermis” has nothing to do with Kermit the Frog’s epidermis. Instead, at least in the United States, it’s a general term meaning a fair or a carnival, especially if it’s supposed to raise money for charity. In the Netherlands, a “kermis” is just a summer fair.
Don’t expect to ask questions of a coral-colored oracle. Rather, a “coracle” is just a type of small rounded boat, traditional to places like Wales, Ireland and Scotland. They build a frame out of wicker or wood, then stretch a waterproof material over it. You can also use the term to describe similar boats in countries like India, Iraq and Vietnam.
Speaking of talking a lot, “loquacious” is another word you should add to your growing vocabulary. It’s an adjective used to describe someone who is very talkative. Regina is particularly quiet and timid, but her brother Thomas is one of the most loquacious boys we’ve ever met!
A word that may or may not have to do with felines, “cattywampus” is an adjective that means something is askew, in disarray, or not aligned correctly. It’s also spelled catawampus. It’s from this term, people think, that we also get related terms like “kitty corner” or “catty corner” to mean places located diagonally from one another.
When you look up weird words in the dictionary, you’ll sometimes find alternate spellings. Borrow a word from another language with a different alphabet or writing system, and there’ll always be variations in how those sounds are interpreted. “Trayf” can also be spelled as treif, treyf or tref. It describes food that’s not kosher.
Last but certainly not least in this list of weird words in the dictionary, we’ve got “widdershins.” It sounds like a made-up word, but it’s definitely real. As an adverb, the Scottish-derived term means that something is moving in a counterclockwise direction. Moving widdershins is considered unlucky.
Weird Words Can Help You Win
One of the great joys of exploring a language is learning all about the weird words in the dictionary. Some of them make sense, many of them don’t, but they’re all fun and fascinating. While you may not be able to play “disestablishmentarianism” in your favorite word game any time soon, you can brush up on high-scoring Scrabble words to play for big points. Let those tiles fly!
Michael Kwan is a professional writer and editor with over 14 years of experience. Fueled by caffeine and WiFi, he's no stranger to word games and dad jokes.