Lost for words? There’s a great big world out there

For author and historian Hilary Mantel it is nesh. For Aminatta Forna it is plitter. WhileSturt34 Nina Stibbe goes all goosey over fetlocks. They are among the writers who contributed their favourites to words we love compiled by The Guardian. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the words come from the writers early upbringing or cultural background.  Neel Mukherjee says he believes every Anglo-Indian knows only too painfully the expression tight slap: “A tight slap is when the hitting palm makes full and satisfying contact with the cheek being hit. No slippage resulting from the face being turned away or trying to dodge, none of the unsatisfactory business of only the fingers making contact instead of the entire hitting palm; full connectivity, in other words. He puts it in the same class of words as chokra-boy (a young male servant or ne’er-do-well), and baba-log (the word Anglo-Indians used of their children when talking to their nannies).

Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go, draws on her Ghanaian heritage for her favourite, chale, which loosely translated is the equivalent of “dude” or “homie”. Paul Kingsnorth unearthed a whole world of ancient treasures researching his novel The Wake and assumed the word swamm meaning mushrooms. had died out centuries ago. Then a reader got in touch and said she distinctly remembered her grandmother who lived in the beautiful Gloucestershire Forest of Dean using the word.

Mantel’s definition of nesh, as fragile, a bit ill, feeling the cold, generally sorry for yourself, brought;  the fetlocks that bring back such memories to Nina Stibbe are a horse’s ankles (the horsey world is full of wonderfully named accoutrements); When Aminatta Forna thinks of plitter she conjurs up childhood memories of playing about in the water. So, next time you’re lost for a word, try claret or clot, yokemabob and yokemajig, scundered, barp and boke, ruddock, dodderums, nuzzled, flappysket and widdershins. And a few of my favourites: snicker, whistlewhetter and floccinaucinihilipilification. and There’s a whole wonderful world out there.

Art work by Sturt Krygsman.

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