Things You Didn’t Know Had A Name

After months of summer, the first rain arrives, leaving that distinctive smell in the air. But did you know that smell has a name; ‘petrichor’. We go about our daily lives without realizing that there are countless names for things we didn’t even know had a name. Such as ‘eigengrau’, the color we see in the absence of light, and ‘apricity’, that feeling of warmth from the sun on a cold day.

The last time you bought a cup of coffee, did you request a ‘zarf’? That’s the cardboard sleeve that allows you to hold the cup without a handle. Or maybe when you bought a bottle of juice, you noticed the ‘ullage’ – this is the empty space between the liquid and the top of the bottle, to ensure the bottle doesn’t leak. It seems that everything has a name, even the little plastic bits at the end of shoelaces are called ‘aglets’ and the metal bit that holds erasers to pencils is called a ‘ferrule’.


Next time you look at your face in the mirror, see if you can find your ‘philtrum’, or better yet, your ‘glabella’. For those wondering, the philtrum is the area between the top of your lips and your nose, whereas the glabella is the space between the eyebrows. It’s not just physical things that have names. Have you ever had a song stuck in your head, that you just can’t seem to get rid of? This is known as ‘earworm’. Perhaps you’re a chess player, and you find yourself in a situation where every move you can make will only hurt you – this means you’re in ‘zugzwang’.

Words themselves also have names. A ‘contronym’ is a word that is its own antonym. For example, ‘to overlook’ can mean to supervise, but can also mean to neglect. While these words often have opposite meanings, there are some words and phrases that are often used by mistake for another, e.g. ‘all intensive purposes’ instead of ‘all intents and purposes’. This mishap is known as an ‘eggcorn’. And finally, it turns out there’s actually a name for doctors’ illegible handwriting; ‘griffonage’.