Beautiful Words That Mean Unappealing Things

by | Dec 8, 2016 | GrammarSpot, Writing Tips | 1 comment

I was embroiled in embrocation when my cell made a tintinnabulation.

You don’t have to be a professional writer to appreciate that gorgeous prose. It contains solid alliteration, a nifty little rhyme and some beautiful words sprinkled in for effect. Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for a Pulitzer to come in the mail, as I believe that’s how Pulitzers work. The only problem is that the above sentence, while unequivocally splendid, essentially means that I was really busy rubbing lotion on a bruise when the phone rang. Embrocation sounds a lot nicer before you know what it’s referring to.

A big vocabulary is a great thing to have. At the same time, there are a lot of beautiful words that can muddy up your sentences, and some of them may even cause you to lose friends. Here are a few examples of words that sound charming but become less appealing once you know what they mean.


French is such a lovely language that people are usually quite taken with words that sound even a little bit Parisian. Unfortunately, if you confuse the word ordure with the phrase hors d’oeuvres, you’ve gone and swapped appetizers for dung.


I love the idea of a word used to describe someone whose attitude matches that of heroic canine Lassie. My friend John is as loyal as they come. He’s also smart and friendly, just a great guy with a great lassitude. In reality, lassitude doesn’t work in that sentence at all because it’s a swanky way of saying mental weariness.


This could only be the surname of a Downton Abbey character, right? Wrong! A mondegreen is a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of a song lyric or phrase. All intensive purposes would be a mondegreen for all intents and purposes. For grammatical sticklers, a person talking about his or her intensive purposes is a grammar pet peeve that’s like nails on a chalkboard.


Untoward sounds like a simple and elegant way of explaining that someone is going in the wrong direction. It pains me to say that’s not what the word means. The correct definition is unseemly or inappropriate. Personally, I feel that untoward is an untoward way of describing a word that is untoward. Also, that sentence makes me want to fling my laptop off a bridge.


Tell your friends that you’ve just returned from veisalgia, and most of them will nod, smile and then rush to find a map once you’re gone. After failing to locate this spot in a travel guide, they should discover that veisalgia is just a fancy, quasi-medical term for a hangover. The only real way to get there is by having a few too many pints at the tavern. Drinking responsibly and opting for a plain language synonym can help reduce headaches.

There are over 170,000 words that are currently used in the English language, and nearly 50,000 more that have been deemed obsolete. With so many nouns, adjectives and verbs available, it’s no surprise that some beautiful words are used to denote less-than-beautiful things. If you can think of any other fancy words with crude meanings, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Evan Gaustad

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