Is Canoodle a Gumption? 10 Cool Words

This list features Merrian-Webster’s Word of the Day selections from the past year that have received the most Facebook “Likes.

#1: Gumption
Definition: common sense, horse sense; enterprise, initiative


“Plans for the relocation and expansion of Vacaville’s homeless shelter have hit a snag, but it looks like a little gumption and the city’s support could keep the project from derailing.” – Kimberly K. Fu, Contra Costa (California) Times, July 10, 2011

About the Word:

English speakers have had gumption (the word, that is) since the early 1700s. The term’s exact origins aren’t known, but its earliest known uses are found in British and especially Scottish dialects (which also include the forms rumblegumption and rumgumption).

In its earliest uses, gumption referred to intelligence or common sense, especially when those qualities were combined with high levels of energy. By the 1860s, American English speakers were also using gumption to imply ambition or tenacity, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that gumption began to appear in English texts as a direct synonym of courage or get-up-and-go.

American showman P.T. Barnum also claimed that gumption named a particular kind of hard cider, but that sense is far from common today.


#2: Flummox
Definition: to confuse


“Several traffic signals around the county seem to be less intuitive than others, judging by some of the mail the Doc receives. One that regularly flummoxes drivers is on northbound Seminole Boulevard at the intersection of Ulmerton Road.” – Lorrie Lykins, St. Petersburg Times (Florida), November 14, 2010

About the Word:

No one is completely sure where the word flummox comes from, but we do know that its first known use is found in Charles Dickens’ 1837 novel The Pickwick Papers and that it had become quite common in both British and American English by the end of the 19th century.

One theory expressed by some etymologists is that it was influenced by flummock, a word of English dialectical origin used to refer to a clumsy person. This flummock may also be the source of the word lummox, which also means “a clumsy person.”


#3: Canoodle

Definition: to engage in amorous embracing, caressing, and kissing


“The honeymooners are ubiquitous. They cuddle on the beaches, and they maneuver kayaks across the clear, turquoise waterways. They hold hands and canoodle at dinner in dimly lit restaurants.” – Ron Donoho, San Diego Magazine, January 2009

 About the Word:

The origins of canoodle are obscure. Our best guess is that it may come from an English dialect noun of the same spelling meaning “donkey, fool, or foolish lover,” which itself may be an alteration of the word noodle, meaning “a foolish person.”

That noodle in turn may come from noddle, a word for the head. The guess seems reasonable given that, since its appearance in the language around the mid-19th century, canoodle has been most often used jocularly for playful public displays of affection by couples who who are head over heels in love.


#4: Sagacious

Definition: of keen and farsighted penetration and judgment; discerning


“However, the new learning from Arab and ancient Greek sources recovered in the twelfth century showed that even the most sagacious ancient authors, including the likes of Ptolemy himself, believed in astrology.” – James Hannam, The Genesis of Science, 2011

About the Word:

You might expect the root of sagacious to be sage, which means “wise” or “wise man,” but actually the two words are not all that closely related. Sagacious traces back to sagire, a Latin verb meaning “to perceive keenly.”

It’s also related to the Latin adjective sagus (“prophetic”), which is the ancestor of our verb seek. Etymologists believe that sage comes from a different Latin verb, sapere, which means “to taste,” “to have good taste,” or “to be wise.”


#5: Numinous

Definition: having a mysterious, holy, or spiritual quality


“The Flinders [Australia] is an astonishingly evocative, numinous place: a landscape where the centuries, the millennia, the aeons all whisper to you.” – Matthew Engel, Financial Times, September 2, 2011

About the Word:

Numinous is from the Latin word numen, meaning “divine will” or “nod” (it suggests a figurative nodding, of assent or of command, of the divine head).

English speakers have been using numen for centuries with the meaning “a spiritual force or influence.” We began using numinous in the mid-1600s, subsequently endowing it with several senses: “supernatural” or “mysterious” (as in “possessed of a numinous energy force”), “holy” (as in “the numinous atmosphere of the catacombs”), and “appealing to the aesthetic sense” (as in “the numinous nuances of her art”). We also created the nouns numinousness and numinosity, although these are rare.


#6: Crapulous

Definition: marked by intemperance especially in eating or drinking; sick from excessive indulgence in liquor


“They were crapulous and carrying blue cans of beer, one of them with a can in each hand.” – Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, 2008

About the Word:

Crapulous may sound like a word that you shouldn’t use in polite company, but it actually has a long and perfectly respectable history (although it’s not a particularly kind way to describe someone).

It is derived from the Late Latin adjective crapulosus, which in turn traces back to the Latin word crapula, meaning “intoxication.” Crapula itself comes from a much older Greek word for the headache one gets from drinking.

Crapulous first appeared in print in 1536. Approximately 200 years later, its close cousin crapulence arrived on the scene as a word for sickness caused by drinking. Crapulence later acquired the meaning “great intemperance especially in drinking,” but it is not an especially common word.


#7: Bathetic

Definition: characterized by triteness or sentimentalism


“Ironically this bloated historical drama about Hungary’s failed democratic revolution of 1956 evokes nothing less than a Stalinist pageant: everyone on the right side of history is depicted as a morally enlightened superhuman, and a wash of bathetic music every few minutes is supposed to remind you how monumental the situation is.” – Ben Sachs,, September 8, 2011

About the Word:

When English speakers turned apathy into apathetic in the 1700s, using the suffix -etic to turn the noun into the adjective, they were inspired by pathetic, the adjectival form of pathos, from Greek pathētikos.

People also applied that bit of linguistic transformation to coin bathetic. In the 19th century, English speakers added the suffix -etic to bathos, the Greek word for “depth,” which in English has come to mean “triteness” or “excessive sentimentalism.” The result: the ideal adjective for the incredibly commonplace or the overly sentimental.


#8: Kismet

Definition: fate


“Call it kismet or chemistry, but when hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons met yoga instructor Porschla Coleman 10 months ago at a party in Atlanta, they instantly hit it off.” – Lynette Holloway, Ebony, February 2008

About the Word:

Is it your fate to tie macrame while drinking coffee and eating sherbet in a minaret? That would be an unusual destiny, but if it turns out to be your kismet, you will owe much to Turkish and Arabic.

We borrowed kismet from Turkish in the 1800s, but it ultimately derives from the Arabic qisma, meaning “portion” or “lot.”

Several other terms in our bizarre opening question (namely, macrame, coffee, sherbet, and minaret) have roots in those languages too. In the case of macrame and minaret, there is a little French influence as well. Coffee and macrame also have Italian relations, and sherbet has an ancestor in a Persian name for a type of cold drink.


#9: Vicissitude

Definition: an unexpected change or fluctuation; a difficulty or hardship usually beyond one’s control


“Ten years is a lifetime in the art world, where the vicissitudes of trends and tastes can befuddle the most experienced.” – Scarlet Cheng, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2011

About the Word:

“Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better,” wrote British theologian Richard Hooker in the 16th century.

That observation may shed some light on vicissitude, a word that can refer simply to the fact of change, or to an instance of it, but that often refers specifically to hardship or difficulty brought about by change. To survive “the vicissitudes of life” is thus to survive life’s ups and downs, with special emphasis on the downs.

Vicissitude is a descendant of the Latin noun vicis, meaning “change” or “alternation,” and it has been a part of the English language since the 16th century. In contemporary usage, it most often occurs in the plural.


#10: Vamoose

Definition: to depart quickly


“He raised his handgun and tried to line Reilly down its sight, but there was too much commotion around the agent and Zahed couldn’t get a clean shot. Time to vamoose. With his weapon still in his grip, he leapt behind the wheel of the van, slammed it into drive, and floored it.” – Raymond Khoury, The Templar Salvation, 2010

About the Word:

In the 1820s and ’30s, the American Southwest was rough–and–tumble territory – the true Wild West. English–speaking cowboys, Texas Rangers, and gold prospectors regularly rubbed elbows with Spanish–speaking vaqueros in the local saloons, and a certain amount of linguistic intermixing was inevitable.

One Spanish term that caught on with English speakers was vamos, which means “let’s go.”

Cowpokes and dudes alike adopted the word, at first using a range of spellings and pronunciations that varied considerably in their proximity to the original Spanish form. But when the dust settled, the version most American English speakers were using was vamoose.

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