The Martin Pollins Blog

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Picture Credit: “Serendipity” by The Rocketeer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Know your ABC: Axiomatic, Bodacious, Clichés and more

Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed – you could be in good company. Although some of the words that follow may crop up in everyday conversation, many people may look puzzled if you ask for them to be defined – I hope the following helps:

  • Acrostic – is a series of lines or verses (of a poem) in which the first, last, or other particular letters are taken to spell out a word, phrase, etc. Example:

P is for Playful, so fun to be with
O is for Obliging, accommodating towards people
L is for Lively, the life of the party
L is for Laidback, not sweating the small stuff
is for Illuminating, brightening lives
N is for Neat, carefully organised
S is for Smart, a keen intellect

  • Aesthete – a person who is appreciative of and sensitive to art and beauty and is indifferent to practical matters. Oscar Wilde was one.
  • Anachronism – (from the Greek ana, ‘against’ and khronos, ‘time’) is a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of persons, events, objects, language terms and customs from different periods.
  • Anagrams – A word, phrase, or sentence formed by rearranging the letters of another.  Example:  name created from mean.
  • Anthropomorphism – is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology. Examples: Winnie the Pooh and Simba (from The Lion King).
  • Axiomatic – means self-evident, taken for granted, clearly true and unquestionable. Example: Death is inevitable
  • Backronym or Bacronym (also known as an Apronym or Reverse Acronymy) An existing word turned into an acronym by creating an apt phrase, the initial letters matching the word to help remember it or offer a theory of its origin. Example: Rap has been said to be a backronym of “rhythm and poetry.”
  • Bodacious – this word is often used  to describe a body’s curves but can describe something remarkable or admirable.
  • Clichés – An overused expression or idea.  Example: All is well that ends well. 
  • Elixir – this is a magical or medicinal potion designed to cure.  An example is a potion made in medieval times for everlasting life.
  • Ephemeral – things (usually plants or some animals) that don’t last forever – things (usually plants or some animals) that don’t last forever – in other words, transitory or quickly fading.  Example: Bluebells.
  • Epiphany – An epiphany (from the ancient Greek) is a once-in-a-lifetime experience of a sudden and striking realisation.  Generally, it is taken to mean a scientific breakthrough or a religious or philosophical discovery.
  • Eudaemonia – originating from the Greek word eudaimon, the word eudaemonia means the state of being lucky or happy. It takes its philosophical root in the work of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.
  • Euphemisms – A harmless word or phrase that may be used as a suggestive one.  Example:  A bun in the oven would be a euphemism for being pregnant.
  • Euphoria – derived from the Greek word for healthy, it is now used to describe an intense feeling of happiness or elation resulting from a fortunate turn of events.
  • Felicity – also a state of happiness. For example, you might find yourself in a state of felicity the next time you’re surrounded by people you love.
  • Idiom –  a phrase or expression that typically presents a figurative, non-literal meaning attached to the words or phrase. Example: Bite the bullet.
  • Inchoate – this means something just begun and so not fully formed or developed; rudimentary.
  • Insouciant – it means being unconcerned, carefree, calm, free from worry or anxiety. Or nonchalant about something that suddenly happened. 
  • Inure – to accept or grow accustomed to something undesirable. For example, your family’s constant criticism could inure you to toxic behaviour from loved ones.
  • Manumitter – someone who frees others from bondage. A type of liberator. Someone who releases people from captivity or bondage.
  • Mellifluous – this word refers to something sweet and enjoyable, even honey-like, especially when it comes to sound.  Examples: You might find the early spring sounds of chirping birds or a newscaster’s voice to be mellifluous.
  • Metaphors – are a form of figurative language, which refer to words or expressions that mean something different from their literal definition. Metaphors are often compared with other types of figurative language such as antithesis, hyperbole, metonymy and simile. Example: ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time.’ (you do remember Elvis Presley, don’t you?)
  • Mnemonic – any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval in the human memory. Example: ARITHMETIC: A rat in the house may eat the ice cream.
  • Nadir – an astronomical term that’s been co-opted for everyday usage, nadir means the lowest point, as in the “nadir of her popularity.”  Its opposite term, zenith, has a similar appeal.
  • Nemesis – the inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall, a long-standing rival or an arch-enemy.  Example: Professor Moriarty was the archcriminal nemeses of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Oblivescence – the process of forgetting.  Example: The extremely rapid oblivescence of common dreams is quite common.
  • Omnilegant – it means you are extremely well-read or familiar with a great amount of literature.
  • Omnimath – a term not unlike Polymath, an Omnimath is a master of everything.
  • Onomatopoeia (or Onomatopia)- a figure of speech in which words evoke the actual sound of what they refer to or describe. Examples: the hiss of a snake or the boom of a firework.
  • Oxymoron – A figure of speech in contradictory terms to give effect. Example:  authentic replica.
  • Panacea – it means “all-healing” in Greek. Panacea was the Greek goddess of healing. It’s something that can fix anything, including solving difficulties or providing a cure for a disease. Example: For some people, green tea is a panacea.
  • Palindromes – a word, number, phrase, or another sequence of characters that reads the same backwards as forwards. Examples: Madam or Racecar.
  • Paradox – a statement that seemingly contradicts itself. Examples: The beginning of the end. Youth is wasted on the young. 
  • Paucity – the presence of something in small or insufficient quantities or amounts. A scarcity or dearth of something. It’s the opposite of plethora. Example: A paucity of honest politicians.
  • Pleonasms – means using more words than is necessary.  It may also be used for emphasis or because the phrase has become established in a certain way. Examples: black darkness or burning fire. 
  • Plethora -this is a large or excessive amount of something. It’s the opposite of paucity.  Example: A plethora of committees and sub-committees. 
  • Polymath – A polymath is someone whose knowledge spans a substantial number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.  In Western Europe, the first work to use polymathy in its title was published in 1603 by Johann von Wowern,  a Hamburg philosopher.
  • Propinquity – similar to proximity, the word can refer to someone who lives near you. Aside from your next-door neighbours and roommates, it can also refer to “nearness of relation,” in terms of kinship.
  • Quintessential – representing the most perfect or typical example of a quality or class. Example: Strawberries and Cream at Wimbledon is British at its most Quintessential.
  • Renaissance – Renaissance is a French word meaning “rebirth”.  It refers to a period in European civilisation marked by a revival of classical learning and wisdom.
  • Retronym – is a newer name for something to differentiate its original form/version from a more recent one. It is thus a word or phrase created to avoid confusion between two types, whereas previously, no clarification was required. Advances in technology are often responsible for the coinage of retronyms. Example: Manual transmissions in vehicles were just called “transmissions” until automatic transmissions were invented. 
  • Sanguine – means optimistic or positive, especially in an apparently bad or difficult situation.  It comes from the Latin sanguineus bloody.
  • Serendipity – a discovery of something good by accident.  Horace Walpole coined the work in a letter to another Horace (Mann) in January 1754.  Fortunate unplanned discoveries include penicillin, Viagra, x-rays, radioactiviey and microwave ovens.
  • Similes – they are like metaphors, but metaphors aren’t similes. A metaphor makes a comparison by saying that one thing is something else, but a simile says that one thing is like something else. Example: ‘He is as strong as an ox.’
  • Spoonerism – an error in speech in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched between two words in a phrase.
  • Syzygy – in astronomy, this is a near straight-line configuration of three or more celestial bodies (such as the sun, moon, and Earth during a solar or lunar eclipse) in a gravitational system.
  • Tautology – is a phrase or expression in which the same thing is said twice in different words. Example: First and foremost.
  • Xanthoriatic – not too clever in one area, but good at everything else.
  • Xenagogue – acting as a guide; guiding someone.
  • Zany – silly or amusing, eccentric, weird or quirky.


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