Susie Dent Top Ten

Susie Dent’s Top Tens: 10 things you didn’t know had a name

This week, Susie Dent's compiled a list of ten words describing oddly specific situations that, until now, you didn't know had a name.


The corner of a table bumps into you; your car keys bury themselves in the squinches of the sofa; your toast lands jam-side down – do you ever get the feeling that inanimate objects are out to get you? If so, you are a 'resistentialist', a riff on ‘existentialist’ that was coined in the 1940s by the humorist Paul Jennings, in which res means ‘thing’.


It seems that friends who always seems to turn up just as you’re popping a cork have been around since at least the 16th century, for it was then that 'lickspigot' emerged as a snarling nickname for a parasite. Similarly, if you know someone who never fails to pop round just as you’re dishing up, that’s a 'smellfeast'.

A Roman Circus susie dent ten
A Roman circus, circa 100 AD. Engraving by Huyot from Pougin’s ‘Dictionnaire du Theatre’. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


The Romans liked to show their disapproval if a stage performer failed to excite them. To ‘explode’ was originally to slow hand clap a poor actor from the stage – it is the sibling of ‘applaud’. Clearly the noise they made in dispatching the poor individual was such that ‘explode’ came to describe a different kind of detonation altogether. If meanwhile those same audiences decided to hiss their disapproval, they were 'exisibilating'.


Throttlebottom' does what it says on the tin, for this 19th-century insult describes an inept person in public office. It was inspired by Alexander Throttlebottom, a character in an American musical who was clearly shuffingly incompetent.

Liz Truss Susie Dent
I imagine ‘throttlebottom’ might be the only remaining insult not yet levelled at Liz Truss since her brief tenure as PM


If you run your fingers down the length of your breastbone you will come to a slight hollow overlying its lower end. This, since Chaucer’s time, has been known by the beautiful name of 'heartspoon'.


In a glossary of ‘North Country Words’ from 1825 we read the following: “‘A spang and a purlicue’ is a measure allowed in a certain game at marbles.” The purlicue is the fleshy part of your hand that appears between an extended forefinger and thumb. (A spang, meanwhile, is apparently about eight inches of leeway from the wall where your marble lands).


There is something about stretching that just demands an accompanying – and usually noisy – yawn. Should you need a word for doing both at the same time, that is pandiculating.


All dogs always do it, and humans tend to do it around a plate of chips – to groak is to stare at someone else’s plate with intense longing, in the hope that its contents might be shared.

Dog eyeing up a Birthday Cake susie dent ten
A groak-ing dog?


Do you find yourself attracted more to a person’s intellect than their looks? If so, you can call yourself a sapiosexual or, perhaps less explicitly, sapiophile.

olfrygt [ooll-frigt]

Translated literally, the Danish olfrygt means ‘ale fright’. A modern coinage, it can be applied both to the fear of running out of beer at home, and the disappointment of finding that your destination on a night out is entirely devoid of bars.

1 Comment

  • philip.talbot says:

    Another great list Susie, thank you. I do like to pandiculate and find myself groaking more than is socially acceptable. I am happy to know that I can tell people what I’m doing.

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