Can You Guess the Meaning of These Bizarre Words?

EDUCATION

By: Maria Trimarchi

6 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Did you know that a "yarborough" is a hand of cards that contains no card above a nine? Or that "noctambulist" is just another name for someone who walks in their sleep? And, can you guess the word that perfectly sums up the chatterbox in your life?

Most native speakers just intuitively understand their language, because it sounds right to them even if they can't explain to you why that is. Gender isn't important in English, which can be hard to remember for an English speaker learning Spanish or French, but English is notoriously difficult to learn. How so? There are a lot of ways to talk about the future in English, which is confusing. And when it comes to vocabulary, the words that are familiar language tools for you can be a bit perplexing. For instance, there's no "ham" in a hamburger, you don't pronounce the "k" in knife, nor are words that are spelled the same, such as "bough," "cough," and "dough," always pronounced the same way.

In the U.S., the average 20-year-old who is a native English speaker knows 42,000 words that you'd find in the dictionary -- in fact, on average, you can expect your vocabulary to continue to grow until you're about 60 years old, at which time you'll know around 48,000 words. But are cattywampus, flibbertigibbet, or, yikes, quomodocunquizing among them? It's not that they're uncommon words, although some may sound like bunkum and balderdash (which means 'nonsense'). One person's gibberish, though, is another person's piece of cake. So let's stop futzing around, and get started. See how many weird (and wonderful) words you know!

Which is another way to describe a noisy situation or a commotion?

A hullabaloo is another way to describe a noisy situation or a commotion. For instance, used in a sentence: It can be difficult to find a moment of quiet while toy shopping in the holiday hullabaloo.

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The number is associated with bad luck in some cultures, but what's it called if you have a fear of 13?

Triskaidekaphobia isn't about having a superstition about 13. Instead, it's an irrational fear or avoidance of the number 13.

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What are you doing if you're "futzing" around?

If you're fiddling with something, or wasting time, it could be said that you're futzing around.

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Which word describes the flighty chatterbox in your life?

Have a silly chatterbox in your life? There's a word for that: "flibbertigibbet" is used to describe anyone who's flighty, frivolous or excessively talkative.

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Brouhaha is another way of describing what?

Brouhaha is another way to describe a commotion, uproar or a lot of noisy activity. It's believed the English word was borrowed from French in the 19th century.

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What does it mean if a pair of celebrities were spotted "canoodling" by the paparazzi?

A canoodling couple, famous or not, is the one that's busy kissing, or being otherwise affectionate. After all, they're just like us! And photos will be everywhere.

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What does it mean if you say you "grok" something?

The word "grok" was introduced in 1961, when Robert A. Heinlein's science fiction novel "Stranger in a Strange Land" hit bookstores. If you "grok" something, you understand it intuitively or empathetically, and that it's become part of you. Just like the Oracle tells us in the movie, "The Matrix," -- "No one needs to tell you you are in love, you just know it, through and through." You grok it.

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What's it called when you meant to say, "He exudes confidence," but instead you said, "He eludes confidence"?

A malapropism is the misuse of a word that sounds similar to another word creates a ridiculous or embarrassing sentence, such as, "He eludes confidence," instead of, "He exudes confidence." Did you know it's also known as Dogberryism? The character Dogberry, in Shakespeare's "Much Ado About nothing" (Act 3, Scene 5), gives us classic examples, like when he claims to have "comprehended two auspicious persons" -- his confusion, "comprehended” mistaken for “apprehended" and “auspicious” mistaken for “suspicious."

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In 1999, President Bill Clinton imagined that Americans must be totally "bumfuzzled" on the use of Social Security funds. What did he mean by that?

Because the government kept announcing surpluses and having budget fights, Bill Clinton imagined that the "smoke and mirrors" accounting practices of Republican lawmakers "totally bumfuzzled" -- or totally confused -- the American people on the topic of preserving Social Security money. If you've never heard it, it was said to be an Arkansas expression in 1999 when the president said it.

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What's it called when your stomach rumbles and grumbles?

When a doctor listens to the noises of your stomach with a stethoscope, but sometimes you can hear borborygmi (that's the plural) with your naked ears.

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What does Hagrid mean when he says to Harry Potter, "Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion," in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"?

In J.K. Rowling's story, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," Hagrid tells Harry of Voldemort, "Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die."

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If you're called a "quomodocunquizing" person, what does that mean about you?

Pronounced kwo-MOH-doh-KUN-kwaiz, quomodocunquize (or quomodocunquizing) means to make money in any way you possibly can -- hustling for your money. In 1652, it was used by Sir Thomas Urquhart, who referred to "those quomodocunquizing clusterfists," meaning someone who not only will make money any way possible, but also keep a tight grip (a "clusterfist") on money.

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Which is the word for someone who is incompetent or lacks strength of character?

By definition, being called feckless isn't a compliment. For example, when he was young, he was aimless, feckless, and, in general, irresponsible -- you could probably get away with throwing in good-for-nothing and counterproductive, too.

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Back in the 18th century, what was it called when you were pretending but not actually doing any work?

Today, you may look like you're working on a spreadsheet while you're actually checking social media. We call it pretending. In the 18th century, when you were pretending to work, it was called "fudgel."

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Which of these is another way of saying something pertains to the day before yesterday?

In Latin, it literally means, today is the third day. Nudiustertian is a one-word option that means, something pertaining to the day before yesterday.

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If your co-worker played solitaire all day long, you could say that he did what at work?

Originally "doodle-squat," in the 1970s we started saying, "diddly-squat" -- which means a small, worthless amount or the least amount. Exactly how to describe your card-player co-worker.

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When you move to a new city, you may find the street layout a bit what?

If you find something confusing or disconcerting, such as when you feel disoriented by the layout of the streets of a brand new city or town, you're feeling discombobulated.

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Which is a form of government run by the worst and most unscrupulous people among us?

The words dates back to the 17th century, and is used to describe a system of government run by the worst, the least qualified, and/or the most unscrupulous citizens.

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If something is in disarray, in disorder or just not lined up correctly, it's called what?

If something is out of place, disordered or just in general disarray, you could describe it as cattywampus. For instance, the magazines in that doctor's office waiting area aren't only a few years old, they're always all cattywampus.

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What's it called when you have a really trivial complaint or criticism about something?

A trivial complaint or criticism, or even a trivial dispute, is called a niggle. It can also be used to mean a small but persistent anxiety or annoyance, like a niggle in the back of your mind.

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If your face has the look of sadness, you're considered to be what?

To be woebegone is to express your great sadness or grief. For instance, if you have a look of woebegone on your face, others will think you're sad.

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Which describes the sound formed when we say a word that combines two vowels into a single syllable, such as "head"?

A diphthong is a sound of speech, specifically the sound formed when we combine two vowels in a single syllable. It usually doesn't work if it's the same two vowels, though, such as in "boot" -- a diphthong's sound comes from one vowel's ending and the beginning of a different vowel, such "hiatus," "eye" or "sound."

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Which word is another way of saying that someone got what he or she deserves?

Often misspelled as "comeuppins," if you've gotten your comeuppance, you've gotten the punishment you deserve -- in other words, you got what you had coming to you.

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What do you call a person who dawdles or wastes time on aimless activities?

Around the turn of the 20th century, to be a "lollygagger" was to be a man with a reputation for being promiscuous. Today, though, to lollygag is another way of saying a person is lazy or dawdling.

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What does it mean if something's just a bunch of "malarkey"?

If someone is talking a bunch of "malarkey," you can count on it being nonsense, or insincere talk in an effort to deceive you. For instance, when Joe Biden said that Paul Ryan's rhetoric on the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi attacks was "malarkey," he was emphasizing that, in his opinion, nothing Ryan had said in the vice-presidential debates was accurate.

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"'We haven't got time to listen to more taradiddles, I'm afraid, Dumbledore,'" said Cornelius Fudge in J.K. Rowling's, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" -- but what is a taradiddle?

Taradiddles are fibs or small lies -- or in the case of Cornelius Fudge, he thought Dumbledore was all silly talk.

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What's it called when a person eats or drinks noisily?

If slurping soup, lip-smacking and other eating and drinking noises bother you -- really, really drive you crazy, it's a condition called misophonia, and it has to do with how your brain is wired. But if you're the one doing the noisy eating or drinking, you're a bibbler.

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If you think that a plan is "cockamamie," you think it's what?

A "cockamamie" idea or plan is one that's far-fetched, implausible or just straight up ridiculous. For instance, a prisoner may hatch a cockamamie plan to break out of jail.

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What's it called when you see faces in unusual places?

There's a name for when we see faces, or other patterns, where we don't expect -- such as, clouds in our coffee, animals in the clouds, or the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich (true story). It's a real phenomenon called pareidolia.

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What are you feeling if you're feeling "mauerbauertraurigkeit"?

Have you ever had the inexplicable urge to push away the people in your life, including your close friends or partner? That's mauerbauertraurigkeit -- pronounced mow-er-bow-er-trow-er-rig-gheit. Well, maybe. Those who like it, use it, but it's debated whether or not this is a "real" word.

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What does it mean if an editorial about a political scandal in the newspaper caused a "kerfuffle"?

If something something causes a kerfuffle, it's caused a controversy -- there's a fuss over it, and people are causing a commotion.

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia accused the majority of justices of using "legalistic argle-bargle" when he voted in dissent of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. What is "argle-bargle"?

In 2013, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia blamed the "legalistic argle-bargle" of the majority of the court as a way to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. Scalia thought they had a copious yet meaningless legal argument.

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If a human fell into a black hole, what process would -- literally -- pull that person apart?

Stephen Hawking coined this term in his book, "A Brief History of Time," when he described what would happen to a human if that human fell into a black hole. "Spagettification," also known as the "noodle effect," describes what tidal forces do to the human body -- literally turning us into long, thin noodles.

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What would you call someone who hates to practice the piano?

You're not alone if you never enjoyed sitting down to to practice piano -- there's even a word for it, and for all of those who feel that way: misodoctakleidist. (And you'll never learn all of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” that way!)

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What did Senator Jesse Helms mean when he referred to his "floccinaucinihilipilification" about a 1996 treaty that would ban all nuclear explosions?

"Floccinaucinihilipilification" may look like a made-up word, but it's the real deal. Other than being famous for being one letter longer than antidisestablishmentarianism (clearly not the longest word in the English language, as we all once believed), floccinaucinihilipilification means to judge something as being worthless, or having no value or importance. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC), for instance, wrote, in 1999, ''I note your distress at my floccinaucinihilipilification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)" -- expressing his concern the treaty was worthless.

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