From Amplush to Zythum – An Irishman’s Diary on words that should be used more often


Words we should use more often.

Amplush: An Irish dialectical term that sounds like a mixture of “ambush” and “impasse”, this can be a bit of both. The late Diarmaid Ó Muirithe cited examples of being “in a bit of an amplush” that covered everything from socially awkward situations to desperate predicaments. Although it features as Gaeilge as aimpléis, it seems to be a local version of the English “Non-plus” that, like crack/craic, crossed the Irish Sea and went native here.

Bafflegab: According to Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English, bafflegab was invented in 1952 by a US lawyer. Why it has not thrived since is a mystery. The word’s creator defined it as describing the sort of “abstruse expatiation commonly utilised for promulgations implementing procrustean determinations by governmental bodies”. But really, it means the same as gobbledegook, except with the implicit acknowledgement that the language is deliberately designed to be obscure. 

Callipygian: This one could be useful in art galleries, and indeed on Twitter, being a single-word description of something that can otherwise use up whole sentences and involve rude language.

But if it wasn’t revived in connection with the Kim Kardashian photograph that almost broke the internet, there’s probably no hope now. It means “having well-shaped buttocks”.

Fubsy: I know nothing about this almost obsolete adjective except that it means “short and stout” and that it derives from a fully obsolete noun, fubs, for a person of that shape. Having learned this much, however, I now plan to drop the word into all future conversations about the ideal shape of rugby props.

Heppen: Following hygge’s invasion of English, maybe it’s time for another linguistic viking, heppen, to make its bow in Ireland, as it has in the UK. Although it just sounds like “happen” in an ooslified accent (see below), it means “tidy, respectable, deft in one’s work”. It’s not easy to be hip-and-heppen(ing), but it should be.

Liaison: Yes, it’s used about meetings of people, especially if there’s sex or intrigue involved. But that seems to have been Lord Byron’s fault.  

Before he started having liaisons and writing about them, it was a cookery term, referring to the thickening of sauces. Let’s put it back in the kitchen, at least occasionally.

Mugwump: Mutton-headed or otherwise, it derives from a Native American word for a “great chief”, and in the US refers to a politician who remains aloof from party politics. So given the build-up of unaligned TDs here, surely a Leinster House mugwump caucus is overdue.

Ooslified: There are other terms for this, of which the most common may be “stuck up”. But if only because it’s such a threatened species, unheard of outside Ireland (and possibly Wicklow), it should be dusted off at least once a year. Diarmaid Ó Muirithe could only guess that it derives from the Irish form of address, uasal, implying nobility. But he learned it from a Rathnew Protestant, and the example given was of a snooty lady who was called “an ooslified bitch”.   

Orotund: This can mean either resonant, as in a voice, or pompous, as in a way of speaking. It’s a contraction of the poetic Latin ore rotundo, meaning literally “with rounded mouth”. So it’s perfectly onomatopoeic: looking and sounding like what it means. I can think of a few politicians whose style is orotund, for better or worse.

In the spirit of another Dublin institution synonymous with delivery, therefore, why is Leinster House not nicknamed the Orotunda?     

Prepone: You can pre-book things these days, which is absurd. You can even pre-plan them, which is worse. So why can’t you prepone events; the perfectly logical opposite to postponing them: bringing forward instead of putting back. They used to do this in the US, according to Fowler. Now it’s only (or mainly) in India where in emergencies, for example, they have sometimes preponed state exams.

Velleity: When you want or need to do something, but not badly enough to actually do it, that’s velleity. “The lowest degree of volition”, it must also be what Yeats meant when lamenting that “the best lack all conviction”. The condition is far more common than the use of the word suggests.  

Zythum: Okay, the usefulness of this one is questionable unless you’re a scrabble player or a columnist compiling lists.  

But for both those reasons, it features in Fowler’s Dictionary too. And since it’s a kind of malt beer, microbreweries may be also interested in reviving it.  

Finding the recipe might be a problem, however. It hasn’t been made anywhere since ancient Egypt.