Recess: Fun With Words


Recess means we take a break and play. It’s important to do that once in a while.

that there’s a German word for “that song stuck in your head”? Ohrwurm. Literally, an Ohrwurm is an earwig insect, and I have no idea how that bit of entomological etymology evolved. (Earwigs really don’t crawl into people’s ears, despite their names – they do happen to be beneficial predators of insect pests in greenhouses and orchards). I’ll be polite and refrain from mentioning which songs get stuck in my head – they’re usually the really obnoxious pop-music sort.

An Ohrwurm could also be That Word Stuck In Your Head. A lot of us have run into this perseverative phenomenon. You don’t have to be autistic or have OCD or Tourette’s, although it helps.

Repeating a word over and over is a called palilalia, which in an exquisite twist of cosmic irony, is a great word to repeat or play with as well: pali-lali-lali-lali-lalia! One of my favorite words to repeat over and over is “smock”. Say it several times quickly and it becomes quite silly sounding: smocksmocksmocksmocksmocksmocksmocksmock
Repeating that word very many times also tends to turn your lips to limp rubber, so be careful.

Smock is odd for being on my list. Usually the really good stim words have several syllables: Fescennine, balderdash, interlocutor, reticulated, knee breaches or isoflavinoid. I can play around with the syllable stresses on i-so-fla-vi-noid for a goodly number of blocks of rush-hour traffic driving. “Knee breaches” seems anomalous, but for reasons unknown odd clothing names will suction themselves to my consciousness. A couple of months ago, “dickey” was very sticky. (That’s a false blouse front, an absurd article if ever there was one.) This spring past, “galoshes” sloshed repeatedly around my cranium. The inside of my head can be a noisy place, tinnitus notwithstanding.

Instead of, or addition to engaging an autistic stim, you could have a Tourette’s phonic tic if you go blurting out some random word for no damn good reason at all. Although dramatically used in the media, it’s actually rather rare for Touretters to have coprolalia, where one unintentionally says taboo or cuss words. In real life, most of us really mean to when we say those words.

Speaking of stimming, one really has to wonder about chanting mantras …

Lexilalia is when you repeat words aloud after reading them. I run into this with scientific terms and names, many of which have such wonderfully theatrical sounds, like arcane incantations. (Turn on your mental Roll-of-Thunder and Great-Echoing-Chamber sound effects here.) My favorites are:



Chrysanthemum leucanthemum!

Gosh, isn’t that fun?

The first is a cloud form, the second refers to a common ingredient in mothballs, and the latter is the garden daisy. Horticultural pedants will note that the taxonomists (bless their wicked hearts) have renamed the daisy as Leucanthemum superbum, which isn’t quite as much fun, although I had a horticulture professor who instead of saying su-PER-bum pronounced the species as SUUP-er-bum.

For a while I would burst into uncontrollable laughter at one of my daughter’s Spanish vocabulary words, bufanda (boo-FAHN-da), which means “scarf”. My daughter then had a penchant for spontaneously hollering out the word just to watch me break into giggles. To her dismay and my relief I eventually became desensitised. I think.


(Special thanks to MOM-NOS for reminding me about this crazy topic.)


  1. kat said,

    17 November 2008 at 19:01

    ha your so freakin FUNNY!

  2. qw88nb88 said,

    16 November 2006 at 0:49

    Sounds either like a tic or a stim. But what do I know?

  3. Autumn said,

    15 November 2006 at 20:56

    Does anyone know if there is a word for moving one’s fingers as though one were typing a word or short phrase over and over? It’s a bizarre little tic of mine…

  4. 14 November 2006 at 20:15

    I tend to repeat short phrases. For the past few years I’ve been turning them into affirmations by intentionally repeating anything positive that happens to pop out, so that it gets stuck in the circuitry, and extinguishing whatever I don’t like. I figure that since my brain has a natural tendency to repeat words, I may as well make good use of it.

  5. qw88nb88 said,

    13 November 2006 at 13:20

    Dirndl I do indeed know (it’s a dress of the German folkwear tradition — thing St Pauli Girl beer) but I shall have to look up chon and xysti. Thank you. I always love learning new words! By the way, buy yourself a “college” dictionary; they have the odd words in them.

  6. Random Reader #25386 or somesuch said,

    13 November 2006 at 8:04

    Randomly ended up getting here via a link on the Nano forums, and I hope html actually works here. :P

    Anyway, this post reminded me of the word dirndl, which I probably don’t have to define since you know words I’ve never heard of. :P It’s a weird/interesting word though. I discovered it and a lot of other words (most of which I’ve forgotten) while playing Spelldown on yahoo. Fun game, but absolutely fiendish if you don’t know that words like chon and xysti actually exist. (I don’t know what they mean though, which annoys the crap out of me. :P)

    -end random comment

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