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8 new words that will open up your world (warning: they’re more than 2 syllables)

I heard recently that on-line copywriters should write at a third grade level. That’s five grades down from the 8th grade level recommended to newspaper writers.

I don’t buy it. If I wanted to write at a third grade level, I’d write for third graders. Not for you. You deserve something else.

Besides, I like words.

At night, reading in the bathtub, I’ll find a new word and shout out to my husband something like, “Honey, what does numinous mean?” (see below). He usually knows, but if not, he’ll use his iPad to find out. (I’ve thus far resisted buying a submersible model.)

New words, used by authors I respect, are cool – even if they come with a few extra syllables. I remember the times when I was a kid and discovering a new word was like finding the doorway to a new world.

I don’t need fancy words, or academic words, or words that make it sound like I know something that you don’t. But I still love words that help me see, smell or understand the world differently. So this week I went searching to be able to share some new favorites with you.



Metanoia comes from the Greek and means to have a change of mind and see the world in a new light. In the early Bibles it was translated as “repent,”  that fire and brimstone term that evoked fears of judgment and future punishment. But metanoia is about shifting one’s consciousness – taking our thinking to a new level – and as such is a perfect word for our times. And it’s a lot more inviting than “repent.”


Numinous. I started finding this word in books by favorite writers addressing our quest for meaning and a spiritual connection with life. It means “appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense;” “filled with a sense of the presence of divinity;” “holy and mysterious.” I like the feel of the “m,” “n,” and vowels rolling  around in my mouth. Just voicing the word is uplifting.

Petricor preferred

Petrichor. The sound of this word does not give away its meaning. But it evokes a smell. The word was invented by two Australian scientists in 1964 and comes from the Greek words petra, meaning “stone”, and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. It describes the smell of the earth, especially dry earth, after it rains. Who knew there was a word for that glorious scent many of discovered as children when we rushed out of the house to play in puddles after a spring rain.  Pronounced PET-ri-kuhr.



Alpenglow. This one is easy – my husband recognized it right away. It’s the red glow on a snowy summit that you may see at sunset or dawn. Technically, alpenglow is not caused by direct sunlight – and only happens after sunset or before sunrise when the sun is still below the horizon. But I use the word to describe that incredible moment when the descending sun sets Mt. Rainier on fire, (our iconic Washington mountain), and all I can do is stand by the side of the road, mouth gaping.


Moonglade. We have probably all experienced the beauty of bright moonlight shining on water, but did you know there was a word for it? Now if we could only have Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam create a song, and do for the word what he did for “moonshadow.”

FEuillemort rev


Picture a walk in the fall, hearing the music from that French song “Les Feuilles Mort” set to the words of the poet Jacques Prévert (translated not quite so poetically into English as “Autumn Leaves.”) As the ache of the dying leaves touches you, know that there is a word for their color that is more interesting than rust, yellow, or orange: “feuillemort.” This one’s a little tough to say – so if you’re interested, google the pronunciation.  Or just use it in writing, while you let the music haunt you in the background.



Zoetic.  Nobody uses this word, or almost nobody, but the brave champion of muses Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic) did recently in her book. “She moved through the world as though in a corona of fire. She was zoetic.” (From The Signature of All Things, p. 375.) Brava to Elizabeth for being willing to use this amazing word that means “relating to life; vital, living.” Given her reputation, I expect we’ll see a big upswing in use.  (The photo is out my bedroom window, by the way, a view that never ceases to fill me with life.)

You might try out a few of these words – or go on a hunt to find your new words. Then share the wealth and post what you find!

One great source of uncommon words is from the Word Nerd at Or find more nature terms at  I’ll try out my new words in little doses – so don’t worry, you won’t have to read the posts with a dictionary.

The cool thing about them is that each word invites you into its world: I stroll down my woodlands path after the rain, sniffing the air, and thinking “ah petricor.” I slow down my car to watch the moonglade on the harbor waters while driving home at night.  I look at the clouds and think about the numinous, and then walk in the garden, my eyes open and grateful for its abundant, zoetic wildness.

3 Responses

  1. We often tred on words like stones along the path to get to the story. Such a pleasure to slow down and notice the stories traveling in the words. Thanks for bringing light and sense into my already sunny evening.

  2. I’ve been told that some of us learned in elementary school that we can “own” a word by using it in conversation 3 times. I like that! Thanks for sharing such great words, Sally! By adding words that engage subtly, we create more nuance. I think words that are more precise (like your suggestions) help us add dimension to our perception of reality. When everything is “great” or “awesome” we don’t pay as much attention to the detailed nuances of life. Thanks again! Laura

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