25 Weird, Witty, and Wonderful Language-Related Terms

From Phrops and Feghoots to Grawlix and Malaphors: There's a Name for It

Getty Images / Carol Yepes

Grammar nerds everywhere will appreciate these weird, witty, and wonderful terms used to describe language. Use them to amuse and perplex your friends and teachers. 

  1. Allegro speech: the deliberate misspelling, respelling, or non-standard alternative spelling of words (as in the Chick-fil-A slogan "Eat Mor Chikin")
  2. Bicapitalization (also known as CamelCase, embedded caps, InterCaps, and midcaps): the use of a capital letter in the middle of a word or name—as in iMac or eBay
  1. Clitic:  a word or part of a word that's structurally dependent on a neighboring word and can't stand on its own (such as the contracted n't in can't): 
  2. Diazeugma: a sentence construction in which a single subject is accompanied by multiple verbs (as in the sentence "Reality lives, loves, laughs, cries, shouts, gets angry, bleeds, and dies, sometimes all in the same instant')
  3. Dirimens copulatio: a statement (or a series of statements) that balances one idea with a contrasting idea (as in Ben Franklin's counsel "not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment")
  4. Feghoot: an anecdote or short story that concludes with an elaborate pun
  5. Grawlix: the series of typographical symbols (@*!#*&!) used in cartoons and comic strips to represent swear words 
  6. Haplology: a sound change involving the loss of a syllable when it's next to a phonetically identical (or similar) syllable (such as the pronunciation of probably as "probly") 
  1. Hidden verb: a noun-verb combination used in place of a single, more forceful verb (for example, ​make an improvement in place of improve
  2. Malaphor: a blend of two aphorisms, idioms, or clichés (as in "That's the way the cookie bounces")  
  3. Metanoia: the act of self-correction in speech or writing (or to put that a better way, self-editing) 
  1. Miranym: a word that's midway in meaning between two opposite extremes (like the word translucent, which falls between transparent and opaque)
  2. Moses illusion: the phenomenon whereby readers or listeners fail to recognize an inaccuracy in a text 
  3. Mountweazel: a bogus entry deliberately inserted in a reference work as a safeguard against copyright infringement
  4. Negative-positive restatement: a method of achieving emphasis by stating an idea twice, first in negative terms and then in positive terms (as when John Cleese said, "It's not pining, it's passed on. This parrot is no more!") 
  5. Paralepsis: the rhetorical strategy of emphasizing a point by  seeming to pass over it (as when Dr. House remarked, "I don't want to say anything bad about another doctor, especially one who's a useless drunk") 
  6. Paraprosdokian: an unexpected shift in meaning (often for comic effect) at the end of a sentence, stanza, or short passage 
  7. Phrop: a phrase (such as "I don't like to boast . . .") that often means the opposite of what it says   
  8. Politeness strategies: speech acts that express concern for others and minimize threats to self-esteem in particular social contexts (for instance, "Would you mind stepping aside?") 
  1. Pseudoword: a fake word—that is, a string of letters that resembles a real word (such as cigbet or snepd) but doesn't actually exist in the language 
  2. RAS syndrome: the redundant use of a word that's already included in an acronym or initialism (for example, PIN number)
  3. Restaurantese:  the specialized language (or jargon) used by restaurant employees and on menus (such as any item described as farm-fresh, succulent, or artisanal
  4. Rhyming compound: a compound word that contains rhyming elements, like fuddy duddy, pooper-scooper, and voodoo 
  5. Sluicing: a type of ellipsis in which an interrogative element is understood as a complete question (as in "My folks were fighting last week, but I don't know what about") 
  6. Word word: a word or name that's repeated to distinguish it from a seemingly identical word or name ("Oh, you're talking about grass grass")