Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, October 6, 2016



As I’ve noted before, I’m fascinated with the prejudices history has imposed on the English language. One of these began nearly a thousand years ago, after William the Conqueror thrust Norman nobility on the unsuspecting inhabitants of what eventually became England. The nobles mostly spoke Norman French, Latin, & Greek. The peons spoke various Germanic & Celtic languages.

Ever since, English speakers have perceived the languages of that imposed nobility to be “classier” than the languages spoken by those who ended up serving them. Authors regularly use this prejudice to give us a feel for characters’ levels of education, though this can backfire & annoy the reader.

The words on the left, taken from books I’ve recently read, came from the mouths of characters the authors presented as educated. In the right column you’ll find a jumbled list of simpler synonyms with Germanic roots. See if you can match them.

ablutions (Latin)                     yawning (Middle English)
demulcent (Latin)                   hurtful (probably Old English)
feculent (Middle French)        wooded (Old English)
lambent (Latin)                       licking (Old English)
sylvan (Middle French)           washing (Old English)                 
cerulean (Latin)                      fiery (Middle English)
deleterious (Greek)                muddy (Middle Low German)
empyrean (Greek)                  soothing (Old English)
oscitant (Latin)                       blue (Proto-Germanic)

I’ve put a key to the matched pairs in the comments section. I’m hoping you’ll leave a comment either regarding this anti-Germanic prejudice, or your success at pairing the synonyms.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam-Webster, Wordnik,  Etymonline, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.


  1. And the answers are:
    ablutions = washing
    demulcent = soothing
    feculent = muddy
    lambent = licking
    sylvan = wooded
    cerulean = blue
    deleterious = hurtful
    empyrean = fiery
    oscitant = yawning

  2. In spite of Portia's deleterious remarks, Julian sat oscitant, listening to the demulcent sounds of his feline companion making her lambent ablutions before the empyrean blaze after her day of sylvan wanderings under a cerulean sky.

    Did I get them all? Oh, I love me some Latinate words! Am I smart now?

    1. Dang it, Miss Allen! You are, indeed, smart now. You may even be puissantly brilliante!

  3. You missed out on middle-low Alabaman, which can only be spoken properly with a load of RedMan chewing tobacky in one cheek, Grammaw's armadillo chili in the other, and a snake-bit tongue. Truely.

    1. Steve - sounds like you're volunteering to write a Wordmonger post on a literary specialty of yours---