Looking for Inspiration in Words

As a highly verbal author, I often find ideas in words. An interesting word or phrase can spark an idea for a story. My visual friends find inspiration in photographs, and plenty of writers enjoy listening to music while they work. I like words.

Some people create “inspiration boards” with pictures and quotes. I thought of making a word list. These are some obsolete English words I put together for traditional fantasy stories.

I don’t recommend actually using these words unless you are extremely selective. They are obsolete, after all. You’ll probably just confuse readers and irritate your editor.

Obsolete English Words for Fantasy

Aberr/abear. These are homophones with different meanings and origins. The first is via Latin, and means to go astray. (The verb aberrate is not yet obsolete.) The second is Germanic in origin. It means, to endure. In my mind they have a pleasant symmetry. Like a knight-errant who aberrs and abears. So romantic.

Alluminor. An obsolete word for a limner or illuminator of manuscripts. It sounds like something out of a fantasy novel: the Alluminors Guild.

Apricity. The warmth of the sun. Influenced by (but not descended from) the same Latin root as apricot.

Calidity/callidity. Another homophonic pair with different meanings. The first means heat. The second, cunning, shrewdness, or wit. Someone with either has a little fire to them.

Cautel. Deceit, or wariness. Like a cuttlefish. Well, not really. But cuttlefish are chromatic, changing color to communicate with each other or trick predators.

Chirm. A commotion, a confusion of many sounds. From the Old English verb meaning, to cry out. Makes me think of Obi-Wan in A New Hope.

Deathsman. Executioner, with Germanic roots. Likewise doomsman for judge. (Doom comes from a root meaning fate, or destiny.)

Drury. Love, friendship, or courtship. It became a surname, which is how Drury Lane was named. (It’s where the muffin man lives.)

Earthbred. Low, groveling, vulgar.

Elfshot. Back in the day, if you a suffered from inexplicable sudden pain or stroke, you were said to be elfshot. Because elves caused all kinds of mischief with their magic bows and invisible arrows. I have a fondness for these old medical terms.

  • If you drank too much you became cup-shot.
  • Giddiness was brainsickness.
  • Perhaps you could be cured by a mad-apple (eggplant)
  • A dead body could be key-cold, which is an uncanny parallel to “dead as a doornail.”

Fulgury. Lightning.

Gardyloo. A warning cry before waste was thrown out of windows. Very grateful this word has been rendered obsolete.

Halicore. “Sea maid,” referring to a dugong or manatee.

Hurlwind. More evocative than whirlwind.

Hythe. A small landing-place or harbor on a river.

Joculator/joculatrix. Male/female jester.

Kell. Chrysalis; related to caul.

Marcid. Lean and withered.

Oölitic. I guess it’s only obsolete with the diaeresis. One of those words words that looks like itself. Like bed.

Ophidious. Like a snake. Insidious, perfidious, hideous, supercilious snake.

Orbicle. A small orb or sphere. “An orbicle of jasp.” The only authors I remember using it are Milton and Nabokov. Jasp = jasper.

Pavone. Older word for peacock.

Peregal. Fully equal.

Philobiblian. Book-lover.

Psithurism. The sound of the wind in the trees, from Greek ψίθυρος meaning “whispering.” I love words that describe sounds. Especially if they strike me as onomatopœic. And yes, I feel entitled to a ligature or two if the topic is obsolete language.

Quintate. To take or destroy one fifth. Think decimate. (And yet duplicate means the opposite of halving something? Language is weird)

Ratcastle. Prison.Sounds like the name of a run-down tavern or thieves’ hangout.

Rattlemouse. Bat. Might make this the surname of a more comedic character.

Vail. To yield. Also, profit, as in avail. Or an alternate spelling of veil.

Wittold. An acquiescent cuckold. Other insults include

  • apple-squire, someone associated with prostitutes. A pimp.
  • A dandiprat was a coin of small value; the word also became an insult.
  • Similarly, jackstraw, someone of little value.
  • A niddicock is a fool.
  • So is a peagoose.

What are your favorite obsolete words?

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