Can You Define These Random Words?

By: Mark Lichtenstein
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

American English: It's one of the most complex languages on the planet, and with good historical reason! It started out as the native language of the Anglos and Saxons, absorbed a huge helping of French with the 1066 Norman Invasion, and then traveled the world as part of the global English empire, taking souvenirs from languages like Hindi. Then, in America, the colonial English speakers picked up words from the Native Americans (like "succotash," once the word "m'sickqatash") and some from the languages of imported African slaves. Finally, American English began to breed colorful regional terms all its own. 

So, in the 21st century, if you want to be an expert on the English language, you've really got your work cut out for you! You have to understand the meaning of prefixes like hyper-, theo- and meta-, as well as the impact of suffixes like -gamy and -pathy. Theogamy: would that be marriage to a god? Not really a useful term in everyday life, but you might find such a portmanteau term in a fantasy novel. 

Is your vocabulary better than the average? We're ready to put it to the test with a quiz that -- be warned -- starts out moderately difficult and proceeds to wickedly hard! (But we've already given you a hint in the body of this quiz). 

Ready, wordsmiths? Get to it!


Tipsy

Tipsy is a word describing a low level of inebriation.

Fictitious

Fictitious describes the nature of a thing as being imaginary, made up, or otherwise false.

Ornery

Ornery is an adjective describing a combative nature, an urge to argue and confront.

Dastardly

Dastardly is a colorful word used to describe the evil of a particularly colorful person.

Proscenium

This word describes a metaphysical concept going back to Ancient Greece, when the first theaters were built.

Aperture

An aperture is simply a hole. In photography, an aperture is the part of the camera that opens and closes to moderate the amount of light that gets through to the film or the camera sensor, allowing cameras to compensate for the kind of film. Adjusting the aperture also changes the depth of field.

Folio

A folio is indeed a single piece of paper or parchment, numbered on the front, and existing on its own or as part of a larger document.

Nib

A nib is a usually replaceable part of a fountain pen, designed to allow ink to flow from the pen's reservoir to the paper in a controlled way.

Nomenclature

This word is usually used to describe a set of words specific to a group, for example, the nomenclature of magicians includes terms like "gaffed" "work" "punch" and "pass."

Louche

This word is used to describe things that while not reputable, are still attractive, like a louche lover, the louche word of theater, the louche bar down the street, etc.

Lexicon

Lexicon is similar to nomenclature, except that a lexicon may be used to describe more than just nouns.

Protean

Referring to the ancient god of sea change, Proteus, this word means as likely to change as the sea, which changes a lot.

Visceral

Coming from its origins describing the innards of the body, visceral describes the feelings people have that seem to come from their guts.

Octodecillion

While the US and the UK can't seem to agree on the nomenclature, this is a big number any way you cut it.

Abstruse

Abstruse does indeed mean something that is difficult to discern, but wait! There are harder words ahead!

Nikhedonia

This odd word means the feeling one has when one is dealt a winning hand in poker, and knows it.

Acedia

One of the earliest named psychological disorders, it stemmed from members of the priesthood getting fed up with religion, or losing their faith.

Tmesis

This word with a Greek root may not be widely known, but its use is widespread in the English speaking world.

Ultracrepidarian

Like the parent asked "why" all the time, an ultracrepidarian is someone who speaks on subjects they know nothing about.

Oenophile

Oenophile means lover of wine, distinct from being an alcoholic, or a lover of alcohol in general.

Chthonic

A word that only came into existence in the 1800s, this word could be used to describe death gods ("Chthonic deities").

Bindlestiff

Created sometime in the early 20th century, this word describing hobos, is a combination of the words bundle (how they carry their belongings) and stiff (a word used to describe a useless person).

Ylem

Ylem refers to the neutrons that formed the primordial matter of the universe before the big bang.

Portmanteau

A portmanteau is a combination word made up of two or more other words, like "affluenza", "Bollywood", or "bromance."

Persiflage

Persiflage does indeed mean the sort of meaningless nonsense conversations we have in elevators and with strangers at cocktail parties. It is light, meaningless, and generally just takes up space in what would otherwise be awkward silences.

Synecdoche

A synecdoche is a figure of speech whereby a part of the whole is used to describe the whole, such as lending one's ears, taking one's hand, etc.

Wabbit

Indeed, this colorful Scottish colloquialism means the state of exhaustion.

Ouroboros

The symbol of a snake eating its tail is an ancient symbol of wholeness or infinity.

Chiasmus

Chiasmus means to repeat in reverse the order of words to emphasize their meaning. To repeat in reverse the order of words to emphasize their meaning means chiasmus.

Zeugma

Zeugma means to use a word in two senses at the same time: "His doctors bled dry both him and his bank account."

Aa

A popular Scrabble word, Aa does in fact refer to a kind of lava.

Bo

Another popular Scrabble word, Bo is a kind of fig tree.

El

An "El" is an elevated train, as found in parts of Chicago and New York.

Gi

A "gi" is a uniform worn in the martial art Judo, and is a popular two letter Scrabble word.

Go

One of the most popular two letter Scrabble words, to "go" does indeed mean to move or travel.

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