Welcome to the masquerade ball

Have you ever heard a lovely word, then realised it actually means something horrible? Here are six terms that are masquerading as pretty things, but have not-so-nice meanings.

*Warning: Contains references to faeces. A LOT of references to faeces.

Oh, and some swears.

1. Tenesmus

Okay, so this sounds like some kind of beautiful landscape feature. Come my darling, stroll with me along the tenesmus and we can watch the sun go down together...

What it actually means

Cramping rectal pain. Yep, it’s when you really need to poop, and can’t. Nice.

2. Nugatory 

Mmmm, this must be an adjective for something creamy and delicious. Maybe something chocolatey...?

What it actually means

From the Latin nugari (‘to trifle’) it means unimportant, of no value or useless. Futile basically.

So definitely not chocolate then.


3. Meconium

Ooh, it’s science-fictiony, right? I’m sure I remember Captain Kirk asking Scottie to fire up the warp drive with some meconium.

What it actually means

Well, it’s kind of science-y. Nope, who am I trying to kid – it’s poop again, sorry. Originally it was used to describe a brown, syrupy substance made from crushed poppy heads (from the Greek word mekon for ‘poppy’). But we now use it to describe the poos a baby does when it’s born. Oh.

4. Moribund

Maybe just because it sounds vaguely like ‘fecund’, this one could be something to do with being bountiful or fertile. Or maybe relating to mushrooms? I don’t know why.

What it actually means

Close to death. Sorry.

5. Ordure

This one’s got a certain air of respectability about it. I can just imagine Dickens writing about a well-dressed gentleman with a double-barrelled name exuding an air of ordure. He’d be wearing a very smart stovepipe hat.

What it actually means

Once again, I apologise, because this one’s also poo. Ordure literally means excrement or dung, and goes all the way back to the 14th century. So you’d probably want to avoid any gentlemen exuding it, stove-pipe hat or not.

6. Coprolalia

Wait, I know this one. It’s the name of a 19th-century ballet about a mechanical doll. Nailed it, right?

What it actually means

No smarty pants, that’s Coppélia. Coprolalia is a psychiatric term for the involuntary use of obscene language. Still, at least it’s nothing to do with motherfucking shit this time.

So, the moral of this blog post is that you should never judge a word by the way it sounds. And that the English language has a lot of words about poo.