The past several days have been wracked with sleeplessness, from my oldest brother waking me up with a phone call Saturday (he apologized) to my portable air conditioner waking me up early Monday morning, pleading for me to empty its reservoir (it didn’t apologize, and it piddled on the bathroom floor). That’s even before all the latest D.C. drama.
Can I get just a few moments to nap, please?
Merriam-Webster, which so often seems to sense what I need before I know I need it, did it again, posting a link Sunday to an earlier blog entry, “8 Obscure Words for Sleepy Times.” Coming after a week when the dictionary had to remind everyone that libel and liable aren’t the same, and I felt like I was running on empty … yeah, I needed that.
Four of the words—logy (meaning sluggish or groggy), soporific (causing or tending to cause sleep, or marked by lethargy), dozy (drowsy) and somnolent (sleepy, or something that causes sleepiness)—were already part of my vocabulary (especially logy, which is a hoot to say) … and my life. Four weren’t, but are now.
Oscitancy is a noun that means, according to Merriam-Webster, “drowsiness usually demonstrated by yawns … dullness, sluggishness,” or “the act of gaping or yawning.”
And if you didn’t yawn from just reading the word “yawns” or “yawning,” you’re far stronger than I am … heck, than most people, as studies such as one published in Current Biology in 2017 seem to suggest. Researchers at the University of Nottingham (yes, that Nottingham … don’t think the sheriff’s around anymore, though) showed 36 adults videos of people yawning, and instructed them either to go ahead and yawn or avoid it. They found that subjects told not to yawn didn’t do it less frequently than the other group, suggesting that contagious yawning isn’t completely within our control.
I can’t tell you how many times Luke started a yawning marathon with me joining in … I did manage to get him started a few times.
In another part of the study, they used the same instructions and videos, but attached sensors to subjects to measure their motor cortical excitability, finding that those with the more excitable brains yawned more frequently.
Well, at least my brain is excited about something. I mean, other than chocolate and sleep. In my defense, chocolate and sleep are pretty damn good.
Merriam-Webster says, “[O]scitancy is a useful word. Its adjectival relation, oscitant, is also available when you want to describe one who is either yawning with drowsiness, or, less charitably and more obscurely, one who is lazy or stupid. The words are Latin in origin, from oscitare, ‘to yawn.’ That word’s roots are os, meaning ‘mouth’ (also at work in osculate, “to kiss,” and in its variant or form, oral), and citare, ‘to put in motion,’ which is antecedent to such terms as recite, resuscitate, and excite.”
As I’ve said before, if you’re going to insult someone, make it interesting like one of Shakespeare’s, or make your opponent head for a dictionary to find out if they should be upset. Oscitant, you’re my new best friend.
Sleepify, a verb, means to make sleepy. Says Merriam-Webster: “While many English speakers have never heard sleepify in use, we think it’s just what’s been missing from conversations about all that bores or merely tires out: a dry lecture can sleepify the audience; one might be sleepified after a big meal; a bad movie might be horribly sleepifying.”
Pretty sure I’ve sleepified non-word nerds more than once. And yet I can’t and won’t apologize. That’s the little sister in me.
The adjective peepy may remind you of those marshmallow sugar bombs at Easter (c’mon, admit it … you put ’em in the microwave to watch them expand), but it has nothing to do with them. Instead, it means sleepy.
“Peepy is too cute a word,” Merriam-Webster writes, “to be mostly unknown outside of dialectal British English. Consider this our invitation to expand its use. We find it to be a charming and evocative synonym to sleepy, coming as it does from the ‘to peer out’ and ‘to emerge’ meanings of peep.
“Charles Dickens used the term in Dombey and Son (1848):
‘So bluff!’ cried Mrs Skewton, ‘wasn’t he? So burly. So truly English. Such a picture, too, he makes, with his dear little peepy eyes, and his benevolent chin!’
“(Do not ask us what a benevolent chin is.)
“Peepy has been in use since the late 17th century, so there’s really no reason, other than ignorance, to avoid it.”
OK, but I claim no responsibility for any sudden urge for neon-colored marshmallows.
The last of the four sleepy words I didn’t know was sloomy, an adjective meaning sleepy or sluggish. Considering this past week, I’m sorry I didn’t know about it till now. Plus, it rhymes with gloomy, so if I ever need to write a poem, I’ve got a head start.
Which would please the folks at Merriam-Webster immensely: “There’s something tragic about such an excellent word being so underused. Sloomy clings by the frailest fibers to the fringe of the language, surviving only in dialectal British English, and barely at that. Reader, you can do something about this.”
I’ll do my part. But can some of you get it started, please? I need a nap.
Merriam-Webster’s blog and its sometimes very snarky Twitter page aren’t the only good places to find words you might not have heard before. In addition to numerous books (Because Internet is on my Kindle right now, but I have many other actual books in my office and at home), there are also several email lists to which you can subscribe.
One of those is Anu Garg’s Wordsmith, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year; you can sign up for A.Word.A.Day emails at Wordsmith.org. Merriam-Webster, the Oxford English Dictionary, Dictionary.com and others also offer emailed words of the day at their websites. Sign up for one, or more, and expand your mind.
Or confuse others with your enhanced vocabulary. That’s always fun.
And I wasn’t kidding about that nap. Tuesday was … interesting, with pages having to be remade, and columns rewritten (not mine, thankfully).
Gee, it’s almost like I work in the news industry! Oh …
Finally, a plea for my Arkansas readers: Though the late summer/early fall Voices letter lull was delayed, it’s officially here now. Therefore, I ask you to send me a missive. What’s bugging you? What makes you happy? What are your thoughts on the craziness that was Tuesday?
Tell me in 300 words or fewer, and send it by mail to Voices, P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, Ark. 72203; by email to email@example.com; or through our Voices form at arkansasonline.com/contact/voicesform. If you absolutely must, you can also fax it to the attention of Voices at (501) 372-4765, or drop it at our front desk (to my/Voices’ attention) at the corner of Capitol and Scott in Little Rock.
Remember, keep it clean, don’t personally insult other readers (hey, maybe somebody is a moron, but don’t say it; people in the public realm are fair game in most cases; still, don’t call someone a criminal unless they’ve been convicted of a crime), no personal or business disputes (yeah, your neighbor or the guy at the drycleaners may be a jerk, but that’s between the two of you), and keep in mind that I fact-check.
Thank you! And now that that’s done, it’s high time I got to bed. I’ll try not to think of Mollie Hemingway saying “false hoax.” Sheesh.