One last dividend from the Winchester book (which, thankfully, I’ve now finished)—a word I hadn’t run across in the OED or anywhere else, and am very glad to know about:

drogulus (‘drQgjUl@s). [Coined ‘on the spur of the moment’ by A. J. Ayer perh. by subconscious association with dragon + L. –ulus as in dracunculus.] An entity whose presence is unverifiable, because it has no physical effects. Also transf.
1957 A. J. Ayer in Edwards & Pap Mod. Introd. Philos. 608 Suppose I say ‘There’s a “drogulus” over there,’ and you say ‘What?’ and I say ‘Drogulus,’ and you say ‘What’s a drogulus?’ Well I say ‘I can’t describe what a drogulus is, because it’s not the sort of thing you can see or touch, it has no physical effects of any kind, but it’s a disembodied being.’ 1959 L. S. Penrose in New Biol. XXVIII. 98, I had difficulty in finding a suitable name for the activated complexes produced in these experiments. On showing one of them to Professor A. J. Ayer, I inquired whether it perhaps might be a ‘drogulus’… He replied that it was undoubtedly a ‘drogulus’.


  1. “A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”

    Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

    “Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle—but no dragon.

    “Where’s the dragon?” you ask.

    “Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”

    You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

    “Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floates in the air.”

    Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

    “Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”

    You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

    “Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.”

    And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

    Carl Sagan, natch. —But I’m also reminded of a Doonesbury stip from the last time it was mourning in America: “Bartender! There’s a bear in my beer!”

    An incredibly useful word. Thanks ever so.

  2. aldiboronti says:

    Philosophical article on verificationism here, in which Ayer’s drogulus is mentioned.
    “As a result of this definition verificationism appears to deny that certain sentences that might commonly be considered to have meaning do in fact mean anything. Ayer’s example is that of the Drogulus; he suggests that it would make no sense to say to someone that there was an invisible, intangible, impotent (and in fact in every way undetectable) monster called a ‘Drogulus’, and that one was standing right behind them. According to the verificationist this is meaningless, since the supposed existence of this creature has no effect of the world, and in fact makes no difference to anyone whatsoever.”

  3. i’d started using “drogulus” to refer to what are known as internet “pop-ups”, but only because i like the word & i’m never going to introduce it in conversation with the other meaning…

  4. Drogulus – an entity whose presence is unverifiable, because it has no physical effects. A remarkably useful term which nicely describes the help desk at my local tax office.

  5. Hey, y’all dissing transubstantiation? And the essence/ accident distinction? A little more of that, and the stake awaits you….
    NOBODY expects…..
    AMONGST our weapons….

  6. Oh wait, I forgot I was a heretic…. I don’t mess with the theology part much, I pretty much specialize in devastating the hapless imperial armies.

  7. I’m reminded of Twonk’s Disease, which is incurable and has no symptoms.

  8. I’ve got that.

  9. Tatyana says:

    Another one!!!
    …Yet no product on earth is as abstract, boundlessly complex and flexible as software. It cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched and is, to borrow Nabokov’s description of chess – a game invented in India – a “spectral art.”…
    (From this interesting post)

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