Bisesquiquinquenniums and People’s 10 Favorite Words

Julia and I were raised in a household in which our dad would gleefully use words like “Bisesquiquinquenniums” (see if you can parse it, answer is beneath the fold). One iconic memory we have is of Dad running down the stairs excitedly saying, “Kids! The Occultation of Regulus is at hand!” (Yes, it’s a real astronomical occurrence.)

So it was with particular appreciation that I came across the Merriam Webster list of People’s Top 10 Favorite Words:

1 ) Defenestration: a throwing of a person or a thing out of a window; or a usually swift expulsion or dismissal
2 ) Flibbertigibbet: a silly flighty person
3 ) Kerfuffle: disturbance; fuss
4 ) Persnickety: fussy about small details; fastidious
5 ) Callipygian: having shapely buttocks
6 ) Serendipity: luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for
7 ) Mellifluous: having a smooth rich flow
8 ) Discombobulated: upset; confused
9 ) Palimpsest: writing material used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased; or, something with diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface
10 ) Sesquipedalian: long; characterized by the use of long words

All of these words are excellent. The last one would be a clue about “Bisesquiquinquennium”, except that the short definition doesn’t include the literal meaning.

‘Sesqui’ is the prefix for ‘one and a half’ so the literal use/translation of sesquipedalian is just “foot and a half long”. Thus, piecing together the parts of ‘Bisesquiquinquennium’, we get “bi” meaning ‘two’, ‘sesqui’ or ‘one and a half’, and ‘quinquennium‘ for ‘a period of five years’. Thus, 2 x 1.5 x 5 is 15 years! The Bisesquiquinquennium is a period of 15 years.

Now are you getting insight into why Julia and I are the way we are?

12 Responses to Bisesquiquinquenniums and People’s 10 Favorite Words

  1. Ah, yes. “Sesquicentennial” was used quite a bit in 2009 for the 150th Anniversary of the publishing of “On the Origin of Species.”

    The only word I hadn’t heard before was “Callipygian,” but I’m going to try to slip it into a conversation today…

    • Jesse Galef says:

      Really, you knew palimpsest? That’s one I didn’t know!

      • I’ve seen “palimpsest” used in the context of painters that reuse canvases, but now that I read the definition I’m not entirely sure that is the correct word for it.

      • Barry says:

        “Palimpsest” was the title of a memoir by Gore Vidal. I don’t think I knew what it meant before I read that, but after I did I (naturally) started seeing it in lots of places. Of course, it helps to read a lot about Authurian manuscripts if you want to run in “palimpsest.” My guess is that it’s related to “limpid” in the sense of “clear.”

      • Barry says:

        “My guess is that it’s related to “limpid” in the sense of “clear.”” Wrong! According to my AH dictionary, it’s from a Greek word meaning “again scraped.”

      • Julia Galef says:

        @MolecularFossils — No, that’s a valid use of palimpsest. It’s also used in the sense of an “urban palimpsest” or an “architectural palimpsest” — referring to the traces of an earlier era, barely visible amongst the modern city.

  2. Joe says:


  3. Henry Shevlin says:

    A couple of my favourites – horripilation (getting goosebumps), and uxorious (of a man, to be overly devoted to his wife). It amuses me that there’s no female equivalent to uxorious, presumably because it’s only relatively recently that it would occur to anyone to think that a woman could be TOO devoted to her husband.

  4. Julia Galef says:

    @Henry — Oh man, those two are fantastic. Other delicious words I don’t believe I’ve ever shared with you: peccadillo (a small vice or sin); skeuomorph (a stylistic feature that once had a functional purpose but no longer does), and drachenfutter (a peace offering from a guilty husband to his wife. Literally: ‘dragon fodder.’)

  5. Henry Shevlin says:

    @Julia – all of the above are great words! Peccadillo I knew, and of course it’s the same origin as the word impeccable (both from the verb pecco peccare, if you’re interested). Here’s another favourite of mine: mountweazel:

  6. Rick Toews says:

    From a lifelong logophile, What a fun page; and what a delight to happen upon it! I was innocently searching for “horripilation, sesquipedalian” when I found myself momentarily sidetracked by the need to parse “bisesquiquinquiennium.” I worked out the 15, though I was a little confused initially: wouldn’t “triquinquennium” have been more to the point, if that had been the intended meaning? However, it then occurred to me that I was missing the point: parsimony is all well and good, but this isn’t the place for it :-).

    Anyway, what prompted my search was the question of whether “horripilative” (I had just listened to a Chopin etude that called the word to mind) was actually long enough to qualify as sesquipedalian. I mean, it’s “only” five syllables and 13 letters. Its interest seems more to consist in its being off the beaten path.

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