Them’s Fighting Words!

Words to Baffle Your Foe

Unless you’re an eristic (someone who’s fond of wrangling), arguments aren’t fun to tumble into. Instead of scrambling for lightweight words in your next duomachy, throw off your opponent with these...enigmatical vocables.


Sometimes our opponents’ arguments are simply too loopy to make sense—rather than follow a direct line, the argument twists its way from one (probably unrelated) issue to another. This is where the wonderful word anfractuous comes in. Used to describe anything that’s winding, sinuous, or circuitous, anfractuous wielded in a sentence might save your opponent’s breath…and your sanity. “I don’t have time to follow all the twists and turns of your anfractuous arguments.”


When a foe stings you with a hurtful criticism, a perfectly acceptable retort might be that “such animadversion is entirely uncalled for.” We may have learned the rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” In fact, verbal attacks may be more dangerous than that rhyme leads us to believe; the Latin animadverto was a euphemism for “to punish with death.”


A good word to use if your opponent is irritable or bad-tempered. With Latin origins, the word is related to “black” (attra) “bile” (bilis), and can also be used to describe a gloomy Gus. “You can flush that atrabilious attitude right down the toilet!”


A rather bouncy word to describe someone who is offensively self-assertive—and for some people when challenged, there is no better description. If your opponent happens to be that overly cocky, city-swaggering upstart, bounce this word in their direction. “I’m amazed that you have any friends, being so bumptious all the time. Your ego always gets in the way!”


If you thought there might be an association between -dent- and dental, then you might have guessed this word relates somehow to teeth, or, as is the case here, the lack thereof. That's not necessarily sayin’ how exactly you should use this word (does it, perhaps, physically describe your opponent in some way? Or does your foe’s argument figuratively lack the ‘teeth’ to fight back?). Whatever the case, this word somehow felt right to include. “I might have been hurt, if your argument weren’t completely edentulous.” Oh, snap!


A biblical reference with Late Latin, Greek, and Hebrew origins, Gehenna literally refers to the valley of the son of Hinnom near Jerusalem, where human sacrifices were made. By extension, Gehenna refers to a place or state of pain and torment. For hyperbolic purposes (great in an argument, and actually really hard for beautifully imperfect humans to avoid), this word is ideally uttered while looking upward in frustrated anger: “Can someone please get me out me out of this @*#$ Gehenna!?”


If you’ve just been bludgeoned by the worst insult imaginable—an insult that is too odious to be expressed (but was expressed anyway), or was unspeakably horrible (but was spoken freely)—then it’s high time to call your opponent a royal SOB, because you’ve succumbed to an infandous offense. Hurl your last verbal darts (hopefully from this list) and get the Gehenna outta there!


Jejune is another zingy word to describe someone or something that is dull, insipid, or uninformed. Another of its meanings serves as a perfect mnemonic: jejune is also a great adjective to use in place of juvenile, or immature. And (it can’t be helped), when your foe is so obviously “j-j-j-jaded,” she might also be (oh yeah, it’s coming...) j-j-j-jejune. Thank you for putting up with that.


A misologist is someone who engages in misology (not to be confused, dear friend, with misogyny, but still pretty detrimental). If you have the misfortune to spar with a misologist, you’ll probably be forced to unravel many anfractuous arguments, because misologists simply hate reason and reasoning. Derived from the Greek misologia (misos, hatred + logos, word, speech, discourse, thought), the word misologist can go so far as to denote someone who distrusts “the rational principle that governs and develops the universe.” Uh…that’s a majorly fatal prospect, so for your own safety: don’t mess with misologists.


For some of you, this word might recall odious, but otiose has nothing to do with odor, foul-smelling or otherwise. Rather, if you find yourself in an argument that is just going nowhere (show of hands?), put the brakes on it with this word, meaning ineffective, futile, or useless. “This is such an otiose argument! We’re quibbling over minor details that have nothing to do with the issue.”


With so many ways to pronounce this word, how could you possibly keep from saying it? A bumptious person is very likely to engage in eyeroll-worthy rodomontade, or vainglorious, pretentious bluster, boasting, and braggery (that’s not a word, but maybe it should be). We’ve all been witness to such peacock-strutting self-indulgence, and it’s jaw-clenching when on display in an argument. Let’s call it what it is and shut it down. “Rodomontade? I'm not swayed.”


When your adversary’s argument stinks, it might be because it’s rooted in scatology, or the study of or preoccupation with excrement or obscenity. Surely, there can only be one word for this odiferous topic, right? Think again. Feel free to opt for coprology to convey the same meaning. Amazingly, there are at least two official words related to the preoccupation with poop and smut—and, woe are we, how often can they be applied! “Ugh, you must have majored in scatology—your mouth is filthy!”


A fabulous word to end our list, wickedly half-rhyming with eviscerate (which we hope only to figuratively carry out with our opponent’s argument!). By the end of the word match, your foe may well be tergiversating, or repeatedly changing attitudes toward the topic of debate. With this wavering you’re on your way to wordplay victory, as tergiversation can also mean the desertion of a position. If your opponent tergiversates, well done champ!

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