From ‘confélicité’ to ‘quafftide’, my alternative Christmas dictionary, reconnecting with forgotten words


Traditions, like so many others, have taken a hit this year. We are out of the office, out of restaurants and theaters, and largely out of touch. And with no mistletoe smooching, pile-ups on the Twister rug, and impromptu visits from extended family, our traditional Christmas vocabulary might also have to wait for a happier year.

And so I’d like to gift my alternative Christmas dictionary, full of words from the past that have inexplicably faded from view and yet capture the spirit of the season perfectly.

They cover the usual spectrum of merriment and crankiness, hugs and arguments, hangovers and stomachaches, but with a twist that 2020 surely deserves. May they accompany us until better and better days.

Anticipation: A 20th century coat rack for the disappointment of something you’ve been looking forward to, a gift or a movie to the Christmas cook’s decision to go for poached prunes instead of pâtés.

Belgard: A 16th-century term for a warm, loving gaze, the kind we all hope to receive on Christmas morning, but which is sometimes delayed until the first drink has been drunk.

Confelicity: A beautiful and much underused word for the joy in the happiness of another person.

Dysania: Extreme inability to get out of bed.

Craze: An irrational inclination. Christmas is the one time of year when almost any craze can be forgiven, from breakfast cheesecake to defending the Queen’s Speech.

Firkytoodles: A glorious Victorian term for kissing and messing around.

Gigglemug: A person who keeps smiling, and therefore extremely annoying if you are a humgruffin in the morning.

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Hibernacle: A winter retreat for any hibernating animal, and therefore the place where you can howls durkle (stay in bed long after it’s time to get up), or just stay in your bed huffle buffs (old clothes, comfortable and probably very elastic).

Idiorepulsive: Self-repellent; potentially useful for your mirror image the morning after the night before.

Joblijock: 18th century dialect for anything that disturbs your home comfort, like excited children jumping on the bed at 5 in the morning.

Kalopsia: A temporary state in which everyone, and everything, looks good (the softer joint of beer glasses).

Latibulation: The act of hiding in a corner to escape reality.

Merrynea: A newer currency for the twilight period straddling Christmas and New Years, when you have no notion of time.

Nepenthe: A potion described in Homer’s Odyssey that banishes all grief and turmoil of the mind, and by extension for anything that soothes your soul.

Oxterful: From the dialect term for your armpit, it is the amount you can carry under your arm. If the cargo in question is a person after a little too much sauce, it is oxtercogging.

Disturb: To persevere to the end. Reserved for things that you find particularly exhausting or tedious, whether it’s pictures of your cousin’s kids, the 50th play of “Simply Have a Wonderful Christmas” or 2020 itself.

“Hibernacle”: a winter retreat for any hibernating animal (Photo: Noam Galai / Getty Images)

Quafftide: The one-word announcement of when, or the season, to have a drink.

Layer : The coup de grace in an argument, also known in 19th century American slang as “sockdolager.” It would be the decisive defeat in any battle on Monopoly or the last Quality Street.

Scurryfunging: will be missed by most of us this year (the frantic race to tidy up before visitors arrive), but there is always twinkle, shine, from latin twinkle, a spark. Christmas trees sparkle with “tinsel”, a close relative.

Test : An unofficial but surely practical term for saying bullshit while waving your hands.

Ultracrepidary: The one who likes to give opinions on subjects about which he knows nothing. There is always one.

Ventripotent: “Mighty belly”; a happy euphemism for the results of too much “belly joy,” an equally old word for feasting.

Wonderclout: Something that looks wonderful on the outside but, on closer inspection, is rather worthless.

X: Frowned upon as a modern abbreviation, Christmas is actually centuries old. The X represents the Greek chi, the first letter of the khristos, Christ.

Christmas hole: The farthest hole in your belt that you resort to after Christmas dinner.

Zhuzh: An almost inseparable verb meaning to add pizzazz, zing and a certain je ne sais quoi to any procedure.

Susie Dent is a lexicographer and etymologist. She has appeared in Dictionary Corner on Countdown since 1992

Perfect word: etymological entertainment for every day of the year by Susie Dent, published by John Murray, is now available

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