Are you a gigglemug or a gobemouche? Weird words to dazzle your mates

Are you a gigglemug or a gobemouche? Weird words to dazzle your mates


I’m standing in a COVID queue, apricating. Not a symptom but a pleasure. We all do it, like cats and lizards. The verb derives from apricus in Latin, meaning awash with sunlight, or to lavish in that warmth, like a dog on the porch. That’s what I was doing, awaiting my nose tickle, standing in the springtime air, apricating.

Reading too, as the queue shuffled forward. Susie Dent is my counterpart in dictionary corner, the lexicographer wrangling contestants on Countdown, the UK version of Letters and Numbers. Her latest book is a verbal almanac, with apricate occupying March 2 – the start of British spring.

Delta is not the only variant we are enduring: the English language is suffering some changes too.Credit:Jo Gay

Other treasures – such as zwodder (a stupor), or gigglemug (a pathologically jolly person) – await in Word Perfect – Etymological Entertainment for Every Day of the Year (John Murray, 2020). Going by the queue’s pace, I’ll knock off July before the swab.

Thrill, I learn, has a weird origin. The root is thirl, being Middle English for hole. It seems the association is more gory than orgy, where a spearhead – or Cupid’s arrow – may pierce the body for that fateful excitement.

Then there’s gobemouche, literally a fly-swallower, hailing from French. Picture a dunderhead so wonderstruck by the smallest revelation that their gaping mouth is the ideal shelter for passing blowies. The image in fact was a fair depiction of me last week, when discovering the sun’s hidden truth.

Call me a gobemouche, but I’d always presumed that sunlight gave our bodies a shot of vitamin D. That’s what brochures seem to say, the lifestyle ads, but I was wrong. Egg yolk has plenty of the stuff. Salmon and liver. But sunlight? Despite everything you hear, zip.

Dr Vyom Sharma, a Melbourne physician, quashed the fallacy on radio. Turns out that sunlight mobilises the vitamin D our system already owns. The two collaborate in silence. Put simply, the D depends on the UV, said the GP.

Egg yolk has plenty of the stuff. Salmon and liver. But sunlight? Despite everything you hear, zip.

Apricating in line, I presume it’s happening now, below the surface, the light on my skin releasing the nutrients within, gathered since my last sunbath. In a sense, Dent’s dictionary follows suit, her words releasing those I already hoard, where apricate evokes April in my mind, or apricot, or pandiculate – to stretch and yawn simultaneously.

Dr Samuel Johnson, the original lexicographer, knew all about rare words and strange connections. In his Dictionary of the English Language (published in 1755), the doctor equated the task of mustering English to chasing the sun, a Sisyphean mission never set to end. As verbivore and sun-lover, I’m grateful for that.

Humdudgeon is another novelty: Scots for a futile uproar, or an imagined ailment. I soak it in, the acquisition jostling with similar words I own, from dudgeon to brouhaha. Possibly guilty of apophenia (an impulse to see connections between unrelated things), I suddenly perceive books as sun-shafts, agents to activate our inner A-Z instead of just plain old D.

A vibrant conversation can do that too, a film, a poem, a puzzle, a Spectrum browse, where each input awakens the words we carry, animating ideas, revitalising the system.

I swipe the QR code. A marshal takes my details. Before I reach the plastic chair, I stow the book and ponder my accidental analogy. Apricating in words, we absorb fresh stimuli to rouse our embedded glossary, to mobilise insights, uncover fresh links.

“Tilt your head,” says the nurse. Her swab dances inside my nostril, a word deriving from nosu (nose) and thirl (hole), which is a genuine thrill to recall – a sweep of light tickling my brain.

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