May 2019


Inchoate is an adjective which describes something that’s (in the words of the Carpenters) only just begun, or is not quite fully formed yet.

Its first recorded use was in 1534, and it’s derived from ‘inchoare’, a Latin word which means ‘to start work on’. Confusingly, because it’s Latin, ‘inchoare’ literally translates as ‘to hitch up’. It was formed from the prefix ‘in’ and the noun ‘cohum’. A ‘cohum’ is a strap used to attach a pole to a yoke. Stay with me. In case you’re not a medieval farmer, a yoke is, among other things, a wooden bar or frame which you use with cows or oxen (other working animals are available) to attach (I think) them to a plough or a cart. This sort of makes sense with its modern meaning, as attaching the animals to your plough is the first step in the larger task of ploughing your field. I said ‘sort of’.

You can also use ‘inchoate’ to describe something that’s imperfectly formed or formulated. According to Merriam-Webster, this second meaning seems to have come purely from the fact that it kinda looks a little bit like the word ‘chaos’, if you knock off the first two letters and squint a bit.


Photo by  Robert Bye  on  Unsplash

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

A sluttery is an untidy room, much like the one I’m sitting in as I type this. (Credit where credit’s due – I unashamedly stole this word from Sir Simon of Mayo on the Wittertainment podcast. Thank you Simon.) ‘sluttery’ dates from 1841, and is obviously derived from the word ‘slut’. You know what a slut is – a sexually promiscuous woman or girl. But ‘slut’ hasn’t always had sexual connotations, which is why the Victorians used it to describe a messy room – the OED’s first definition from 1402 is: ‘a woman of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits or appearance; a foul slattern.’ There’s an even earlier use of it in print in a description of a man (yes, really) in Geoff Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’, published between 1340 and 1400. Chaucer wasn’t throwing shade on anyone’s sexual practices either – he used the term ‘sluttish’ to refer to the man’s messy appearance (it’s in the prologue to the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale: ‘Why is thy lord so sluttish, I thee preye’).

The sexual connotations don’t seem to have come into general use until the 20th century, when ‘woman who’s bad at housekeeping’ somehow morphed into ‘woman who can’t keep her knickers on and is therefore a bad person’.

On a more serious note, despite attempts to reclaim the word ‘slut’, most notably by SlutWalk (an international movement calling for an end to rape culture, victim blaming and slut shaming sexual assault victims), it looks set to remain a pejorative word resolved solely for women – there’s no male equivalent. In fact, Wikipedia notes that there are 220 words for sexually promiscuous women, all (all!) of which have negative connotations, and 20 for men, many of which are seen as positive (so that’s things like ‘stud’ or ‘player’). Unfortunately it looks like language still has a long way to go when it comes to levelling the gender playing field.



No, not a fear of cowboys (because it has ‘lasso’ in it, geddit?). Thalassophobia is a fear of the ocean. It also includes fear of water or waves, fear of the vast emptiness of the sea, fear of distance from land and/or fear of all the scary-ass freaky things that live in the ocean. I think I might have thalassophobia.

Photo by  Jakob Owens  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

The word comes from the Greek thalassa which means ‘sea’ or ‘ocean’ and phobos meaning ‘fear’ or ‘dread’. Phobos is the personification of fear in Greek myth. His twin brother was Deimos, the god of terror. Probably not fun at dinner parties.

Want to find out if you have thalassophobia? Take this not-at-all-scientific test. Or watch this video of a colossal squid *shudders*

Thalassophobia is not to be confused with ‘aquaphobia’ which is the fear of Danish-Norwegian bubblegum pop music. Not really! It’s actually the fear of all kinds of water bodies (including, for some poor souls, fear of water in the bath). There’s also ‘hydrophobia’ which is the fear of any type of water, including drinking it. People with advanced rabies get hydrophobia, meaning they have difficulty swallowing, panic when given water to drink, and can’t quench their thirst.

Well, that ruined the mood, didn’t it? This will cheer you up (or make you want to rip off your ears):


Nope, I haven’t suddenly gone all political – this doesn’t have anything to do with Brexit. Ironically, it means ‘a sudden and favourable resolution of events in a story’ – so a happy ending when it looks like everything’s lost, basically (I think this is ironic – as previously mentioned I’m not entirely sure I understand irony. Not an Alanis Morissette level of not-understanding, but I do sometimes have to go on to check).

The writer JRR Tolkien coined the term eucatastrophe by sticking the Greek prefix ‘eu’, which means ‘good’, in front of ‘catastrophe’ (you know what that means). An example of eucatastrophe in ‘Lord of the Rings’ is (spoiler alert!) when Frodo gets all caught up in the ring’s thrall and Gollum appears out of nowhere to try to steal it from him, then he and it fall in the lava. Oh, and the bloody eagles (if Gandalf had just called the eagles right at the start to fly Frodo and the ring to the Cracks of Doom immediately, they all could have been home in time for second breakfast).

So, whether you’re a leaver or remainer, we can all hope that the current EU catastrophe ends with an eucatastrophe.

SHAMELESS PLUG: If you’re interested in other words that authors have coined, check out my blog.


First of all, I’d like you to hazard a guess as to what this means. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Okay, got something? If you’re anything like me, you probably decided it means something religious. Because it looks like ‘ecclesiastical’, right? (If your brain went somewhere else entirely, do let me know in the comments. Or if you already know what this means, then well done you – you get a metaphorical gold star.) Well, I’m afraid you’re wrong. In fact, you couldn’t be wronger (which I know isn’t a word). An ‘ecdysiast’ is… wait for it… a stripper. The clothes-taking-off kind, not the painter and decorator one.

The word was coined by HL Mencken, an American journalist and English scholar. He took it from the Greek word ‘ekdysis’ which means ‘a stripping or casting off’. ‘ekdysis’ is generally used scientifically to describe an animal which sheds its skin (like snakes and… some other animals which I don’t know).

‘ecdysiast’ is described on a couple of pages I looked at as ‘facetious’, so I don’t think Mr Mencken was being entirely serious when he came up with it…