The Top 10: Words You Have to Look Up in the Dictionary Every Time

Here we collect those words that you always have to Google, so that you never need to do so again – until the next time you come across one of them

Chimera of Arezzo (see no 8): Etruscan bronze statue depicting the legendary monster, circa 400BC
Chimera of Arezzo (see no 8): Etruscan bronze statue depicting the legendary monster, circa 400BC

Boris Johnson called Sadiq Khan, his successor as Mayor of London, “some puffed-up pompous popinjay in City Hall”, which prompted my colleague Tom Peck to suggest this Top 10, because he can never remember what popinjay and panjandrum mean. (A vain or conceited person, especially one who dresses or behaves extravagantly; and a person who has or claims to have great authority or influence, from the 1755 nonsense poem by S Foote.)

1. Irenic. A part of Christian theology concerned with reconciling different denominations and sects. Boris Johnson, again, in his “reaching out” speech on Valentine’s Day: nominated by Geoffrey Mamdani.

2. Arcane. Sometimes confused with archaic, it means understood by few people, or mysterious, which makes it a self-describing word. Thanks to Robert Boston.

3. Tergiversate. Make conflicting or evasive statements. Dr Anthony Ingleton also admits that he could never remember the difference between agglutinins and agglutinogens.

4. Paradigm. A typical example or pattern of something (originally a table of all the inflected forms of a word, serving as a model for other words of the same conjugation or declension). “Cracks me up every time Bitcoiniacs wheel it out,” said Matthew Randall.

5. Subaltern. An officer in the British Army below the rank of captain. Paul Fishwick.

6. Hedge fund. An investment fund, usually an offshore private limited partnership, that engages in speculation (originally “hedging” or betting against expected trends). One that used to confound John Mullin when he was editor of The Independent on Sunday. Every few months he would ask the business editor to explain what it is. He is in good company. Jeremy Corbyn once complained to Labour MPs that vulnerable people “were being forced to borrow money from hedge funds”.

7. Epicene. Sounds like it should mean “portly” but is actually a neater way of saying “androgynous”, said Bruce Napier.

8. Chimera. Something hoped for but illusory or impossible: originally a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail in Greek mythology (above), and later any mythical animal formed from parts of various animals. Nominated by Robertson Barley.

9. Amanuensis. A literary or artistic assistant, in particular one who takes dictation or copies manuscripts. Archie Valparaiso.

10. Palimpsest. A manuscript on which later writing has been superimposed, effacing what was there before: hence anything reused or altered but still bearing traces of its earlier form. Chris James.

Once again there were two nominations in the “there is always one” category: gurrible, nominated by Matthew Randall, and faringulous, from Funkadelic Horse. The second really is singular in that, until this Top 10 is published, it was a “Googlewhack”: a word which, if entered in Google, produced only one search result, namely Funkadelic Horse’s tweet nominating it.

Next week: Zombie Statistics, such as that people use only 10 per cent of their brains

Coming soon: Alternative Book Titles, such as The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder, better known as Brideshead Revisited

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in