Words that do not Exist but Should

This idea, or more correctly this class of idea, came from two sources. One was Douglas Adams & John Lloyd’s book The Meaning of Liff—and the later expanded version The Deeper Meaning of Liff—which took underutilised place names and repurposed them into such wonderful definitions as “Moffat (n.) That part of a coat which is designed to be sat on by the person next to you on the bus.”.

The other was a collection of so-called “untranslatable” words from other languages. For example, the Portuguese saudade—a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing; or the Yaghan mamihlapinatapei—the wordless, meaningful look shared by two people who both want to initiate something, but are reluctant to do so.

Adams himself may also have been inspired by these untranslatable words. In Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency there is a London restaurant called “L’Esprit d’Escalier”, which is a French term for thinking of the perfect comeback after the discussion is over.

Here, rather than co-opting place names as Adams & Lloyd did, I have tried to come up with new words, some of which are not entirely unreasonable. This is a living document and I may at some point ask for your help in coming up with these new names, as in most cases the definition comes first.

AmbiQ §

(Noun) A question to which answering either “yes” or “no” does not make the situation any clearer.

The Cereal & Milk Problem §

(Noun) When you have too much of one thing (e.g. milk) so top it up with the other thing (e.g. cereal), then end up with too much of the second thing (cereal), so top it up with more of the first (milk), and repeat ad nauseum.

Dantzig Sniping §

A cruel type of trick where one poses a difficult problem as if it were much easier than it is. Named after George Dantzig who solved two open problems in statistical theory, which he had mistaken for homework after arriving late to a lecture. Originally coined here.

Emporviiium §

(Noun) An establishment with an eight-letter name—the minimum length for a Wi-Fi password—and thus, a solid first guess.

Entropium §

(Noun) A material that maximises entropy. What earphone cables are made out of.

Footle §

(Noun) A handle, but for feet.

Isonope §

(Noun) A line on a map connecting equally scary or dangerous points.

Llort §

(Noun) The opposite of a troll. Coined by Paul Graham here.

Lorem Oopsum §

(Noun) Filler text that has accidentally made its way into a final product.

The Lucas Ellipsis §

(Noun) The incorrect, but excusable, instance of an ellipsis used by George Lucas in the opening credits of the Star Wars films ....

Netlag §

(Noun) The shift in a human’s circadian rhythm caused by binging on Netflix.

Oleogram §

(Noun) The pattern left on a phone screen from greasy hands. This can be a security threat if it has left your password, or a canvas for art if you’re bored. Named by Joe Branson.

Partick’s Principle §

(Noun) The phenomenon whereby typographical errors become easier to spot the more permanent the medium in which they are written. Those hard to spot in a document editor become easier when exported to PDF, easier again when printed out, and blatantly obvious when finally—and irreversibly—submitted. Named by designer Patrick Cusack.

Pragmanticism §

(Noun) The meeting of romance and pragmatism.

Skeuphemism §

(Noun) An emoji when used as a euphemism .

Squrling §

(Verb) The much frowned-upon activity of curling in the squat rack.

Strook/Struk §

(Noun) A type of thick academic book that is only ever used to elevate a screen. A structural book.

Those without a name yet

Many hands make light work. All suggestions welcome.


(Noun) The minimum amount of something you can leave in a container and not have to be the one to throw it out.


(Verb) The act of covering up a questionable internet search by playing it off as a typo.


(Verb) Seen but not clicked. For example seeing the thumbnail and/or title of a video but not watching it, knowing an article on something exists but not having read it.

??? (should rhyme in another language, be autological)

(Noun) A lyric or phrase that rhymes in another language. E.g. The Forbidden Fruit music festival would be Les Fruits Interdits in French.


(Noun) A statement that is more enjoyable to say than it is to check if it’s actually true.


(Noun) A bug in a computer program that is clearly fatal, yet fixing it does not fix the program.


(Noun) Things that people think are specific about a place but which aren’t really. E.g. Saying multiple “yeah”s and “no”s, very changeable weather, etc.


(Noun) The unnecessary bit around serving suggestions that if you did yourself would result in you getting given out to.


(Noun) The pages that a book not so randomly opens on.


(Noun) A topic in which the most enlightened opinion is equivalent to the least enlightened opinion, but where the opinion of a partially enlightened person differs. e.g. octopuses, octopi, octopuses. Effectively the midwit meme.


(Noun) The look back to check if you’ve left anything behind before you get off a bus, train, or plane.


(Noun) The category of words whose definitions start with “of or relating to”. E.g. dental, equine, etc.


(Verb) Extending the wrong letter in an elongated word. E.g. typing “classsssss” when what you would say is closer to “claaaaaaass”.


(Verb) Replacing the wrong word in e.g. Playing football with a stick instead of a ball and calling it “stickball” instead of “footstick” which would be more accurate.


(Noun) The stuff flicked onto a bathroom mirror.


(Noun) The stuff left from badly peeled stickers.


(Noun) Seemingly organised but almost useless. E.g. A library arranged by colour.


(Noun) An organised mess.


(Noun) The soreness in a thumb caused by forcing a shoe on.


(Verb) Looking at someone’s face and realising it’s not exactly what your brain had simplified it to.


(Verb) Repeating an action and failing each time, but then trying very deliberately and methodically and succeeding. Most often occurs when picking up something small off the ground.


(Noun) The gifts you buy for yourself while attempting to buy someone else a present.


(Noun) A location that is the distance away from a shop that can be walked in the time it takes to eat a chocolate bar. A location where there will be no bins.


(Noun) Words where the pronounciation of substrings present in the original change in variants of the word. E.g. midwife, midwifery.