Words Without Words: Obscure Terms Illustrated by Polly Law
I’ve always been fond of the relationship between text and art. It’s why I make all my birthday cards by hand and why I enjoy watching TV shows containing floating, on-screen words (Sherlock anyone?). Some projects, like PostSecret by Frank Warren, accomplish this blend of language and art quite well. Polly M. Law takes the endeavor a step further in her book The Word Project, which uses images of hand-made paper dolls to illustrate obscure terms. Not only do I appreciate the pictures that Law created, but also the words she chose to use. For example:
Nurgling (adj.): of cat-like demeanor
Anyone who reads my articles or engages in conversation with me for longer than 3 minutes will learn that I love cats. (In fact, I wrote an article all about cat words a few weeks ago that could’ve used a term like “nurgling.”) Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I found this picture to be my favorite out of the bunch. Though “nurgling” may not be pleasing to the ear (it sounds a lot like gurgling, in my opinion, which pretty much ruins it for me), it can certainly come in handy when your cat-lady friend starts perching on fences and hissing at passerbyers.
Pigsney (n.): a specially cherished or beloved woman; a small eye
First used by Chaucer around 1390, pigsney has two wildly different definitions, the first having to do with a young lady and the second, eyeballs. You heard me. Pigsney has nothing to do with pigs, though Law uses the resemblance to make a playful representation of the word. However, I don’t advise anyone to use this word to describe their significant other. You may now know that pigsney is an endearing term for “sweetheart” but anyone else may see it as an excuse to slap you across the face. (“What did you call me? A pig WHAT??”)
Dinomania (n.): irresistible urge to dance
If you’re hesitant to describe yourself as “a victim of tarantism” (or, an illness characterized by the sudden urge to dance) because it seems too closely related to tarantulas for your liking, dinomania may be an appropriate replacement. While the modern definition for this word seems to be a “growing popular interest in dinosaurs,” I prefer Law’s version, if only because it allows for mental images of dancing dinos. I’m sure Ross Gellar would appreciate it.
Godwottery (n.): an overly ornate garden
Godwottery is what happens when your mother/grandmother/hipster friend develops an interest in home-grown vegetables and flowers. Such people will not settle for just some ordinary garden. Rather, they must work on their plots of land day and night until they either resemble the gardens of Versailles or the default “garden pictures” on bags of compost at Home Depot.
Lucubrate (v.): to work by artificial light
When I first started reading The Hunger Games, I would take every opportunity to read another chapter, even if that meant burrowing under my covers with my iPhone flashlight in hand. Apparently, there’s a word for that. (Not for “an obsession with the Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle,” but for “reading by an artificial light.”) From the Latin word “lūcubrāre” meaning “to work by candlelight,” lucubrate can be an especially helpful word in a world of glowing screens and devices.
Bibliotaph (n.): a person who hides books
A word fit for the likes of Ray Bradbury and Markus Zusak, bibliotaph refers to a person who stashes away books. If Guy Montag and Liesel Meminger were around in real life, they could probably start a Bibliotaph Club where they discuss all of the books they’ve been smuggling. Brownie points to anyone who understood those references.
Empyreal (adj.): celestial; belonging to or deriving from heaven
If you were looking for a more creative compliment to scribble on your Valentine’s Day card, this is it. “You are empyreal, darling.” This heavenly vocab word translates into a delightful paper doll that is colorful but also slightly creepy. I think it’s the hair.
Strigiform (adj.): resembling an owl
Next time someone calls you four-eyes, spin around and retort: “Actually, I’m strigiform.” It might not help you avoid name-calling and it certainly wouldn’t help you pass your zoology test (not all owls wear glasses…some have contacts), but at least it would give you a good laugh. If you have a long neck instead of poor vision, just replace strigiform with struthiform (resembling an ostrich) and you’re all set.
Those are just a selection of Polly Law’s fantastic word illustrations. There are hundreds more in her book which you can find on Amazon. If you do buy it, try not to leave it lying around. You never know when a bibliotaph will strike.
Image and info via BrainPickings.org and Polly Law’s book.