Maria Popova had a post a year ago (I’m always the last to know!) at Brain Pickings, “Unusual Words Rendered in Bold Graphics: A visual A-Z of the hidden treasures of language.” Her introduction is a model of brevity:

As a lover of language and words, especially obscure and endangered words, I was instantly besotted with Project Twins’ visual interpretations of unusual words, originally exhibited at the MadArt Gallery Dublin during DesignWeek 2011.

The rest is all illustrations (lovely, to my eye) of obscure words (one each from A to Z); I won’t give examples, because some of you may enjoy guessing as you scroll down which word is being illustrated (I tried, but didn’t get a one), I’ll just send you over and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


  1. narrowmargin says

    I’m definitely going to have to keep a list of those words! They’re so unusual that I kept asking myself, “Could these simply be made-up words, comical and ingenious inventions?”

  2. dearieme says

    “didn’t get a one”: is that “a” an American dialectical usage?

  3. narrowmargin says

    P. S. Happy Birthday for tomorrow. I have to say it early since I probably won’t get a chance on Monday.

  4. “didn’t get a one” is an expression used by my parents, who are Australian and in their late seventies. I don’t recall hearing it much by people younger than them.

  5. “Didn’t get a one” sounded familiar and folksy and American to me.
    I didn’t get a one, either. I think I had only seen three of the words before: Hamartia, Welter, and Zugzwang. Possibly Tantarism. This doesn’t really work well as a guessing game, but the words and the pictures are both very nice.
    Ostentiferous is related to a recent LH thread.

  6. Well, the clues weren’t exactly transparent.
    There was one word that I didn’t find unusual at all: Welter. Is it really such a rare word?

  7. marie-lucie says

    Thanks for the link, LH! I liked the pictures, and I too was surprised by “welter”. It is not rare, but I think that it is mostly used figuratively. Many of the words seem to be nonce forms, often jocular creations, or foreign words which would not be rare in their original languages. I don’t want to spoil others’ fun by adding them here.

  8. Oh, yes, Happy B’day!

  9. I like the graphics, I think it’s their best work.
    Happy birthday, Language!

  10. “didn’t get a one” – @dearime I think you are right, that is American Dialectical Usage.

  11. This doesn’t really work well as a guessing game
    Oh, it’s not intended as one; I just couldn’t help trying to guess what those amazing images might be illustrating. It’s pretty much hopeless as a guessing game.
    And thanks for the birthday wishes, all!

  12. Til hamingju með afmælis!

  13. I knew fanfaronade, but only because of its use in French. Didn’t realize it was also considered an English word…

  14. Here are the OED citations (the entry is from 1894 and hasn’t been revised):
    1652 T. Urquhart Εκσκυβαλαυρον 73 The Gasconads of France, Rodomontads of Spain, Fanfaronads of Italy.
    1713 Swift Pref. Introd. Hist. Reform. 7 The B——p copied this Proceeding from the Fanfaronnade of Monsieur Bouffleurs.
    1784 R. Bage Barham Downs II. 259 He damned her ingratitude; She, his fanfarronade.
    1789 H. L. Thrale Observ. Journey France I. 24 [It] diverted me..by the fanfaronades that it contained.
    1814 Scott Diary 24 Aug. in J. G. Lockhart Mem. Life. Scott (1837) III. vii. 229 He seems to..act..like a chief, without the fanfaronade of the character.
    1865 C. Kingsley Hereward (1866) xii. 165 They outvied each other in impossible fanfarronades.
    The pronunciations given are the anglicized /ˌfænfərəˈneɪd/ and the French /fɑ̃farɔnad/.

  15. marie-lucie says

    Only Swift used the correct French spelling, fanfaronnade.

  16. Trond Engen says

    Sort of related: Bilder i kampen mot særskrivingsfeil, a comedian’s effort to enforce the rules of compounding.
    Og gratulerer med overstått!

  17. Trond: Funny. But what it really shows is that there’s little possibility of being misunderstood by writing it incorrectly.

  18. gratulerer med overstått
    That’s a funny expression; Einar Haugen tells me it means ‘congratulations on having gotten through it’ (“greeting heard after a holiday … ab. equal to ‘glad you’re back'”).

  19. Trond Engen says

    It is a funny expression – which of course it why I couldn’t resist using it. It means “congratulations on the past occasion”, especially when you haven’t seem somebody since before their birthday. A use as a general greeting after holidays is unknown to me. It could possibly have changed since Haugen’s day, but so completely that the other usage has disappeared?

  20. Trond Engen says

    AJP: I agree that there’s little risk of actual confusion of meaning, but it does increase the chance of gardenpathical false leads (from near zero to fairly frequent).

  21. Treesong says

    Happy Birthday, you, too!
    I guessed 0 of 26, knew JUWZ (Z isn’t so obscure either), recognized CFHLT, might have guessed MNP etymologically. My guess for H was ‘heautontimouromenos’; I was disappointed.

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