Liberal Arts Blog — Vocabulary Update: Arch , Gainsay, Incel

John Muresianu
3 min readSep 1, 2020


Liberal Arts Blog — Tuesday is the Joy of Literature, Language, Culture, and Religion Day

Today’s Topic — Vocabulary Update: arch (playful), gainsay (contradict). incel (involuntary celibate)

Words are magic thinking tools. They give precision to thought. The bigger your vocabulary the clearer your thinking. So I keep trying to add to my stock. Also, the richer the texture of your life. The more names of trees, flowers, birds, and dogs I know, for example, the closer attention I pay to them. The greater the attention, the greater the appreciation. The greater the appreciation, the fuller the life. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

GAINSAY (contradict), ARCH (puckish), INCEL (involuntary celibates)

1. Gainsay sounds positive to me. Gain is good, right? Well, actually, in the word “gainsay,” gain is short for against. So to gainsay is to say against, or contradict. Synonyms: deny, dispute, challenge, repudiate, contest.

2. Arch: met it in a sentence recently and the term was clearly not referring to the shape or having the meaning of “chief or principal” as in “archbishop.” It turns out the word has a third meaning — playful, puckish, impish, roguish. Example: “arch observations about the most mundane matters.”

3. Incel: I hate it when a New York Times headline is incomprehensible to me. This happened again last week. What the heck is an incel? Apparently, it means “involuntary celibate.” And was invented by a Canadian woman in 1993 who was such but then the term took on a life of its own and now appears to refer to an online subculture of white supremacist males that has been classified a terrorist threat. Alana, the inventor, commented: “Like a scientist who invented something that ended up being a weapon of war, I can’t uninvent this word, nor restrict it to the nicer people who need it.”

PUER (tanning), PUERPERIUM (post-partum), BRANCHWATER (“Bourbon and branch”)

1. Puer: I just thought it meant “boy.” Well no that’s the Latin puer. The English puer is a “mixture of dog’s dung and water used by tanners for bating hides and skins after liming.” Got that? Tanning was an extremely smelly business. And tanneries tended to be located far from town centers.

2. Puerperium: the British English term for the six weeks after childbirth when a woman’s reproductive organs return to their pre-pregnancy position. In America, called the postpartum period as in “postpartum depression.”

3. Branchwater: water collected from a stream as near to the source as possible. “Bourbon and branch” just means bourbon and water.


1. My three favorite words are above. Every year or so I publish a reminder in case you have forgotten what makes them so unbelievably cool.

2. Do you have a set of favorite words that most people are not familiar with? If so, please share.

3. Chiasmus: a reverse parallelism as in “Don’t let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you.” or “Let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate.” Kairos: in ancient Greece, two words for time. Chronos (linear time) and Kairos (the opportune time). In life, timing is everything. Syzygy — along a similar line, syzygy is the alignment of heavenly bodies (eg. planets, moon, sun). The right time is when all the planetary ducks are lined up. To me the look and sound of all three words are as cool as their meanings.

Tanning (leather)

Chiasmus — Definition and Examples | LitCharts



Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to words, language, literature, religion, culture. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to Words, Language, Literature (eg. quotes, poetry, vocabulary) that you have not yet shared.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.



John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.