Awkward Words That Failed

There Is Such a Thing as Too "Educated"

English is a great language (yeah, we’re biased), but it wasn’t always so. In the 1500s, scholars coined hundreds of terms using Greek and Latin influences to help refine “barbarous” English.

These "educated" words were eventually considered too pretentious for common use. They were known as inkhorn terms because the ivory-tower wise men penned their fancy-pants words using ink stored in containers of animal horn. Let’s explore some of these superciliously silly inkhorn terms and be grateful they were fatalities of the English language.

Exolete

If this means “a sadly obsolete device of exquisite excellence” we’ll be the first to admit that some of us still cherish the exolete Nokia 3310 we got as tweens in 2000. The monochrome display! 35 spectacularly tinny ringtones! T9 txtmsgs! Alas, exolete cannot command such semantic perfection, because it was merely a synonym of obsolete

Adnichilate

We think you might be able to decipher what this one means—or was meant to have meant. Remove the ‘d’ and the ‘c’ and you’ll have a gimpy cousin of a pretty devastating word.

Got it? How about in a sentence: “We’re forever grateful words like these were adnichilated from the face of Modern English.” By making a few adjustments, this inkhorn term survived to become the contemporary annihilate. And given its grim, life-ending meaning, we’re definitely glad we don’t need two of these guys.  

Adminiculation

When Gordon Ramsay slices open a finger, he won’t cry “help”; he’ll shout a different, but equally concise word. After that expletive expulsion, you can be sure he won’t be yelling for “adminiculation,” or what some Renaissance hot shot thought would be a great term for aid.

Why, we’ll never know—with the constant evolution of language, it’s not easy to trace reasons behind an archaic word’s creation, use (unless it’s recorded in writing), diminishment or extinction.

But what we’d posit is simply: the dang thing’s a mouthful. When every particle of your being is devoted to the mangled mess of your hand, your brain can’t possibly strain for a 14-letter word. Pain is quick, and help needs to be just as fast.

Fatigate

Not difficult to see where this sleepy term lies. As with some of the other inkhorns we’ve seen, this word closely resembles another—in this case, fatigue—that gained control in everyday parlance. Perhaps fatigate was an attempted verb form of fatigue. We can just as easily fatigue over the course of a long day as we can fatigate. Unless you want to be a 500-year-old fogey, we suggest you stick to the former.  

Illecebrous

Oooh, this has an aura of scandal about it. What sorts of illicit, illecebrous activities can we get entangled in? In the 1500s this word’s meaning wasn’t in reference to illegality but rather a sense of allure, and attractiveness. But we humans are sometimes attracted to illicit behaviors! We turned our back on illecebrous long ago, because it wasn’t illecebrous enough for us!

Ingent

Ingent was a term loaned from Latin meaning huge, very great or immense. Of course, these synonyms have successfully usurped the inkhorn term, leaving the awkward sounding ingent by the wayside. 

Nullifidian

Nullifidian seems like it's just a combination of “nullify” and “obsidian,” leaving us with a bleak picture of black nothingness. But, centuries ago, nullifidian was actually a proposed synonym for atheist. We don’t see a point in resurrecting this old word, although we concede it would help distinguish between a theist and atheist, one who believes in a God and one who does not.

Temulent

After a rough week of work, most weary workers TGIF and imbibe some bubbly. Twerking may or may not occur. Yes, temulent is an extinct inkhorn that means drunk or intoxicatedWarning: if you become petulant or turbulent when temulent, we strongly suggest you stick to the soft drinks.

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