A world without words is a terrifying thought. They are the very essence of our being and no part of our existence is untouched by words.

Yet we are complacent with this precious gift and like the thousands of animals that silently, almost unnoticed, fall into extinction, so to do our words.

A recent research project by Dr Selin Kesebir at London Business School has discovered that an incalculable number of our words in the English Language are quickly disappearing and many of these are associated with our natural environment. These words were robustly used and alive until the 1950s but have since dwindled in usage until their presence in society is a mere backdrop, often known only to academic staff.

Poetry is found within the words themselves, their sounds a sensory delight, almost tactile and a joy to pronounce (or attempt!). The highly evocative ‘Landskein’ describes the weave of horizon lines on a hazy day – where one word takes the place of the clumsy formation of nine!

Equally rich and expressive is ‘roarie-bummlers’, a Scottish playful-sounding word describing the swift-moving storm clouds.

Whilst school children become more attuned to the digital world and where nearly 80% can name Pokemon characters as opposed to only 50% who can name pictures of wildlife, the hope is that this same expansive digital network can come to the rescue of the vanishing words.

Through the use of social media there is an aspiration that words such as ‘shivelight’, which means lances of light cast through woodland canopy, will enter our everyday language. In one experiment a tweet sent by Dr MacFarlane at the University of Cambridge about the Anglo-Saxon heritage of the word ‘Holloway’ for a sunken lane worn into the landscape by generations of travellers received 20,000 retweets and likes.

Other words highlighted in the research include the following:

‘Owl-light’    Twilight

‘Petrichor’    Smell of dry earth and rock that comes before and during rainfall 

‘Glashtroch’    Incessant rain

‘Gludder’    Fleeting sunshine between showers

‘Neptunes-uouue’    Sea mist

‘Smeuse’      Sussex dialect for a hole in the hedge left by the repeated passage of a small animal

‘Stravaig’     Scots and Irish word for wander aimlessly

Nurdle’     East Anglian dialect for wander aimlessly


One area where there is an exception to the decline of words is weather-related vocabulary, which is as popular as ever and no doubt shows the predisposition in the UK to talk endlessly about the weather…of yesterday, today, tomorrow!

However, the decline of words surrounding nature are of concern ‘not only because they imply foregone physical and psychological benefits from engagement with nature, but also because cultural products are agents of socialisation that can evoke curiosity, respect, and concern for the natural world.’*

The onus on us is to save our rich heritage which is part of us all!

* Selin Kesebir

Photos courtesy of Pixaby

Sources include The Times & BBC Todaysea mist


98 thoughts on “Neptunes-uouue

  1. Your post was beautiful and evocative, and brought to life the relationship with nature that has never been a reality for many modern people. I’m thoroughly a city girl, and yet even I was stirred by the imagery.
    I’m a tutor and I notice the paucity of many children’s vocabulary. I’m giving one or more random words from this *funny* book, with a request for the child to use the word outside my lesson, (,ss:44&tbm=shop&prmd=isvn&srpd=6787481297841896920&prds=epd:16802043533889429432,cdl:1,cid:114549282810197902&ved=0ahUKEwjxlea_3brVAhVGPFAKHfIsAvcQgTYIhwE) and the students lap it up, because they enjoy the explanations. The words aren’t weather-related, but they certainly are missing from most children’s conversations. Shockingly, the classroom teacher of one of my students hadn’t heard of some of the words!

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment and great that it drew a city girl like yourself in! 😀😀 I love the look of the book you use with your class…what an inspiring idea and no wonder your students are enthused by these new words – their lives will be enriched. Oh, I’m not surprised by an adult not knowing some of the words and from experience know some children’s vocabulary exceed those of grown-ups!

  2. Really interesting and haven’t really come across any of those words before but hopefully our connection to nature won’t be totally lost because the words are. Many work so hard with young people to help connect them. Some reconnect later with gardens too!

    1. Georgina, I’m sure our connection with nature won’t be lost if these words disappear but there is a certain emptiness if one is uable to describe and share the experience through loss of vocabulary – hopefully a few will live on! The spirit is revived when outside amongst nature and we all need that, young and older. Personally my love of gardening only developed once I had my own house – that certainly made a difference although the wilderness and isolation of the moors has always meant a lot to me! Many thanks for your lovely comment and warmest wishes to you. 😀❤️

      1. I find learning and being with speakers of other languages interesting. We sometimes revert to Latin names for species as that is still common currency amongst those interested in nature! And perhaps we have to be a bit German and create new words or recreate the old ones somehow with some visuals on something like instagram!

  3. I loved this thoughtful post, Annika! I love words and how they came into being created or used. I don’t like (at all) how special words are no longer in use! This makes me sad. . . Thanks for sharing! Take it easy and safe travels, dear friend. 💞

    1. It’s quite overwhelming when you realise how many words are falling out of use…then new ones introduced. These caught my imagination and a joy to share here. Thank you, Robin…I look forward to the holiday but no doubt as usual will work up to the wire! 😀 Many thanks for your lovely comment. Take care, too. xx❤️

    1. Thank you, Tanya, they are fun and can’t fail to cheer one up! So glad you’re enjoying them and the post! Hopefully by sharing I’ll help in a small way and some might be reprieved! xx

  4. I love the fact that you introduced us to new, beautiful words. This is a wonderful post Annika and your photos ate gorgeous. Thanks for a lovely write up. xo 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your warm and lovely comment, Miriam! 😀These words are so interesting and I just wanted to share them in an interesting way here – so glad you liked the accompanying photos, I needed atmospheric ones to match the words!

    1. I agree, Marje and hopefully at least some of these words will become more widely used and even perhaps part of everyday life! 😀😀 Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Owl-light is just so perfect…and one I intend to use regularly!

  5. I loved this post Annika. I read a lot of nature writing and enjoy very much the old words for different aspects of nature. One that I already use quite regularly is petrichor, as I love that smell, but there must be so many rich words that have been lost.

    1. Yeah! Someone who actually uses one of these words on a regular basis!!😀😀 That is just brilliant and gives me real hope that some of these will not be lost. I’d never come across petrichor before and wonder if you know it from your nature books etc. You’re right though, so many already lost and others just eking out an existence!

  6. Pingback: Captivating Beth Chatto Gardens – Annika Perry's Writing Blog

    1. It is a unique way of staying in touch with our ancestors and our roots in nature – how would our spirits fly otherwise! 😀 Our natural environment needs as many advocates as it can get.

  7. RMW

    Next time we have a storm here in LA (probably have to wait until the end of the year) I will be thinking of roarie-bummlers! Can’t wait to use that expression in a conversation… Yes, I do worry about the demise of the written word. Although sometimes I find myself writing carelessly and I tell myself, oh well, it’s only email or a blog post so it doesn’t matter!

    1. Rosyln, I had to laugh at how you’d have to wait until the end of the year for a storm! 😀 I wish that was the case here, there’s been plenty of roarie-bummlers this week together with the accompanying torrential downpours and gales! I’m sure they time it just as the poppies are flowering…it’s the same every year! Oh, it’s easy to become ‘lazy’ on emails and I then pull myself up…this is a fun way to rejuvenate ‘dying’ words! I can’t wait to hear about the reaction of local people to your roarie-bummlers phrase!

  8. Thank you for resurrecting these words! I love the sound and meaning of every one, though I’ve never heard of them except maybe for landskein. Nurdle is perfect – I’ll have to make sure to use that all the time now.

    1. Nurdle is one of my favourites of all these too, Sheila and I can see this becoming popular in the wider world! Especially when it starts to be dropped into everyday conversation…Have fun bringing the words to life and so glad you liked the post.

    1. Many thanks, Ipuna! 😀 I feel we never stop learning and it’s a real delight to discover new things, even better if they’re to do with books, writing or words! 😀

  9. What a fascinating post, Annika. I love one word descriptions which say everything in that one word. When I did a teaching video years ago in English, German and French, I laughed at the expressions for heavy rains: “it’s raining cats and dogs” or “it’s raining in buckets” or “it’s rain swords.” Or “it’s raining in streams.” I am curious how you pronounce the title of your blog. I formed vowel sounds which actually sounded as if I marveled at the photo which I did. Can you help me with that? Beautiful post today!

    1. Mary Ann, I love your description to pronouncing NEPTUNES-UOUUE and I think it is a formation of the vowel sounds and yes, it does sound as if one is in awe of the photo!😀 I’m becoming more and more fascinated with these words which are falling out of common usage and it’s a delight if this comes across in my post. Thank you so much for your kind words. I like the expression ‘raining swords’ although I wouldn’t want to be outside! I wonder where the phrase ‘raining cats and dogs’ comes from? It must have been an interesting time recording that teaching video!😀

      1. Thanks for your comment and explanation. Do you know the children’s book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs? That’s when I got into how people talked about rain. I think swords came from French and buckets or streams from German. Cats and dogs? Perhaps a description of those poor animals caught outdoors in the rain? There are interesting explanations on the web: “Cats and dogs” may come from the Greek expression cata doxa, which means “contrary to experience or belief.” If it is raining cats and dogs, it is raining unusually or unbelievably hard. No matter which origin, I find the expression in other languages very interesting. My colleague read the book aloud to her elementary class.

  10. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I’m working on my children’s fantasy story. I’ve made up a few words of my own, but some of these will be perfect. If my story becomes popular then maybe those words will too. I especially like owl-light and it seems I’m not the only one since a few of your followers like it as well. I have an owl character, who’s not a smart owl by nature but does manage to come up with something to help seemingly by accident. Unfortunately, I haven’t worked it out yet! Thank you again for a delightful post.

    1. Connie, thank you so much for your wonderful and exuberant comment!! 😀 I love the sound of your owl character and good luck with finishing your children’s book…are you near to completing the first draft? I’m over the moon if some of these words make it into your book and what a great way of reviving them – some are just perfect from fantasy fiction! Do let me know which ones you decide to use. Also, I like the way you make up your own words for your writing – any you can share here? As young, I often made up words as I felt the ‘correct’ ones just didn’t fit the subject matter!

    1. Many thanks and so glad you enjoyed the post and the words! You’re right, these are ones that can carefully be reintroduced into society – we don’t want to scare people away by sounding as if we’re talking gibberish! 😀

    1. It’s a day of gludders here today, with lots of glashtroch thrown in for good measure! I’m beginning to wonder how I managed without these words. Owl-light is so tender and perfect – I can see this quickly growing in popularity! 😀 Many thanks for your comment, Curt – any words you know that have fallen out of use?

  11. An important topic … I think I have read a similar piece about Canadian words. Your post also reminded me of the diversity of the English language as I don’t believe the words you listed, except perhaps one are words I have ever heard before. But this doesn’t diminish the point that there has been a distancing from nature experience…it ties in with a story I read yesterday about how city children on a country field trip walking on a sloping field thought they were falling off a cliff (they were only familiar with sidewalks)

    1. Janice, I’m sure this depletion of nature words is a world-wide phenomenon regardless of the language! It is a real shame we lose that special connection to the natural world… I couldn’t help but at first smile at the children confused whilst walking on a sloping field but then realised how sad that this is happening. Not only are the words missing to describe nature but also the reality of it is absent as well. sigh…

  12. Love these words, though I’ve never heard any of them. Cool to know there are words to describe these things–I like petrichor (the actual smell 😉 ) and stravaig, though I suspect the Aussie ‘walkabout’ is more recognized. Here’s another for your collection, one I ran across some years ago and have saved for just the right moment:

    Eigengrau: the gray color you see when it’s dark outside, not to be confused with the black of anything else. there’s still signal activity from eyes, even though you can’t really see anything. Also called Eigenlicht.

    It’s German, but I love the word 😀

    1. Julie, I love your two suggestions!! 😀 I’ve never come across either from my university study of German or living there so I wonder if these too are words that are in danger of disappearing. They’re just perfect for the occasion you describe – Eigenlicht = own light. You had me scurrying to me huge German/English dictionary and nope, it wasn’t there! Thank you so much for sharing these and yeah, the right moment came along! 😀

  13. Annika, what great post for a linguaphile / logophile like myself! The meanings of the words you cited made me so happy thinking about the ideas they represent.

    I must mention a discussion on NPR on similar lines where the author and linguist John McWhorter talked about how language is, contrary to many of us who think (or wish) it to be static, will never be static. He says that language is ever-changing and fluid, and something we must learn to accept.

    Listen to it, or read the transcript here:

    1. Yeah, I can understand that this post would be of extra interest and significance to you as a linguaphile / logophile! Thank you so much for introducing me to the latter word – one I’ve never come across – I’ve floundering for just such a word.. perfect ‘a lover of words’!

      Thank you also for including the link to the NPR and I look forward to looking at this closer during the week. Language is like a living ever-changing organism, always fluid but it is important to some extent try and save words related to nature as I fear the peace, tranquility and strength humans draw from nature might be lost.

  14. I guess it is true that words do come in and out of the vocabulary. That’s a shame, there are some really neat words on your list. I like Owl-light, but I have never heard of any of these. I’m guessing they are more English than American-English, but then I spend most of my time around teenagers with such massive vocabulary contributions as “hey bro,” “I got you,” “cash me outside,” and “just sip tea,” for a few, lol! Gorgeous photo selection.

    1. Lana, I had to smile at your teenage list of vocabulary – does ‘just sip tea’ mean to relax/chill? My son explained ‘cash me outside’ which he says was popular here for about a week! 😀 You should try some of these out on them! seems easier to stick with these ‘lost’ nature words…I’m off for a nurdle in the glashtroch and will look for a smeuse! 😀 The photos are wonderful and I would love to capture such a sunset one day!

    1. Jo, I had only heard of landskein before but that was a long time ago. Smeuse struck me as unusual as to why anyone would actually name that hole left by a small animal going through a hedge! It sounds terrific and one not quickly forgotten!😃

    1. Yeah, Ankur, you’re right of course! 😀 I hadn’t thought much about that…I just wonder in which area this is happening. Language is like a living organism, adapting all the time…it would just be sad to lose so many words relating to the natural world! However, there must be a limit, I suppose, to the number of words in regular usage – alas!

  15. The loss of words is sad enough; the extinction of nonhuman animals is even more disheartening. You eloquently show the relationship between these two, Annika. Hopefully, we’ll turn it around before it’s too late ❤

    1. Tina, one can but hope and do anything to help the survival of both! 😀 I think we’re at a stage in the world where people are taking these issues more seriously than ever before and there is a momentum for preservation…the awareness is from the grass-root level up.

  16. Anonymous

    Love the words contained here Annika although I must admit that the only one I have ever heard here out in the sticks of north Essex is Owl-light. In fact we often hear the hoots of a barn owl just after dark. Wonderful.

    1. Many thanks, Mike and so happy you enjoyed the post. These words will enrich anyone’s everyday language and great that you’ve heard owl-light used in a normal setting; it’s a wonderfully evocative word! 😀

  17. lAnnika, I learned a long time ago to keep a pen and pad by my side at all times. When I’m reading and stumbled onto a word I don’t know, I write it down and look it up. This is why I love to read older literature because they offer me words in which I knew I would have to look up. Through the years I’ve looked up so many words that I have my own dictionary with these words.

    I agree, social media with an eye to using fewer words to say more and fiction that tells us to write less and use simpler words. I want to read things that make me want to look up words and thus open my dictionary and learn something new.

    1. Wow! JC, I just love the idea of you having your own compiled dictionary of the words you’ve come across through your reading!! 😀😃 Many (including myself) start noting down unusual unknown words but stop shortly afterward. These older archaic words are a gift and it’s wonderful that you are helping to keep them alive.

      Much of social media does use simplified language and abbreviations etc which is a pity…but at the same time, it would be great if it can also help to save these words and extend vocabulary. There’s never an easy answer.

      What are the more unusual words you’ve learned through your readings? Do you use them in your own writings?

      Many thanks for your lovely comment. 😃

      1. This is one that I love…camelopard- a giraffe. This word might be a common word in Africa but I hadn’t heard of it…

        I do look back through my list from time to time so probably subconsciously they make their way to the page.

  18. Wonderful post and quotes to eat. I remember Owl-light. ‘I ‘ll go hunt the badger by owl-light.’ Seriously, hugs and may the business of creating words replenish itself x

    1. Many thanks, Shey and I love your ‘quotes to eat’ comment!! Just how I feel about them too. Owl-light is wonderfully evocative and brimming with atmosphere and how great that you knew it already and used it in everyday life. Now, about hunting badgers??… I’ll join you in hoping that some of these find their way back into modern life…they’ll just have to edge some others out of the way! hugs xx

    1. I think that is one of my favourite words – ‘nurdling’ – just matches one of my favourite activities! Enjoy! And hopefully with more usage, these archaic words will become ‘modern’ again!😃

  19. We who are writers must shelter words as the foundation of our craft. I treasure knowing there are specific words for particular elements or situations. Thank you, Annika, for a thought provoking article. I’m going to share this with my older grandchildren.

    1. I love the idea of sheltering words, Sharon…building a safe hideaway for them all! At times I find myself searching for a particular word and realise it just doesn’t exist in English and I’ll use a Swedish or German one instead! Very odd! When younger I used to make up words when I felt something extra and new was needed…I honestly thought this was the perfect solution! 😀 That’s great you’re sharing with your older grandchildren and I would love to know what they think. My teenage son read the post and had to laugh and said, yep, that was probably true about him knowing more Pokemon names! Typical!! 😀

    1. Many thanks, Debby and so glad you enjoyed the words and the post – it was a delight to research and collate. Ahh…that wonderfully evocative owl-light…just perfect and describing a perfect dusk when we often hear the owls. 😃❤️

    1. Luanne, they are wonderful, I agree and I’m so happy I came across them. Quite a few have stuck in my mind and I can’t wait to use them in casual conversation! 😀

    1. Many thanks, Iris…once I saw the article and doing more research I just had to share! So glad you enjoyed the post and as a poet and wordsmith one I hoped would interest you.😃

  20. What beautiful words Annika! Where did you get them? I have never heard them though I have surfed across the ocean of Literature for a long time.
    If you study the history of English Literature and have read Chaucer, you would know how different English language was at that time! Many words and expressions of those times have decayed, the spellings have changed and this language now thrives on convenience! I appreciate your research and putting together an enlightening post. Thanks for sharing and i love that first picture, superb photography! 🙂

    1. Balroop, I came across these words in an article in The Times the other day and I was immediately hooked and afterward, I did some further research online. I’m not surprised you haven’t come across these on the internet, they are not in common usage, some of Scottish origin and I only knew a couple that I’ve heard spoken by others.

      I do love the history of language and I did a linguistic course at university – of the German language. At school we read Chaucer and yes, what a huge difference but still not so hard to understand. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and the photos…not by me alas, rather from the superb Pixaby website. The first photo is my favourite too, just mesmerising. 😀❤️

  21. I am surprised words related to nature are getting out of young people’s vocabulary! It reflects disconnect from nature and that is sad.

    Petrichore is one of the words in the list I deeply adore! Now I feel more tempted to discover these words and use them often.

    1. Prabhat, it’s that disconnect from nature that you mention which I find most worrying – if you don’t have the words for an object, emotion, how can you relate to it on a deeper level and share with others.

      I love how you’re tempted to use these words and I’m hoping to start using a couple on a regular basis.I like petrichor but more relevant for me is Glashtroch as we have had many days of incessant rain this Spring.

  22. I love all those words, Annika, and wasn’t familiar with any of them, perhaps because they’re mostly European? I want a book of great words like these that I can muse over at bedtime and savor like little chocolates. Thanks for the delightful post. 🙂

    1. Oh, I love the idea of musing over words like these and savouring them like chocolates – words and chocolates, two of my favourite things!

      Final edits before posting is often not a good idea – as is the case here. I did have in that the words were from the UK but edited it out last minute as I found the sentence clumsy but then realised their origin became unclear. Quite a few are Scottish words actually. So glad you enjoyed the post…

  23. Those are gorgeous words, Annika. Nature is always prominent in my stories (and will be in the next) so I love the sound of these. Years ago, I had my students join Merriam Webster’s Adopt a Word activity. I Googled it so I could share the link and it’s nowhere to be found. Even has shut down.

    I think this proves your point. Sigh.

    1. Ditto sigh!!

      Jacqui, I love how you encouraged your student to Adopt a Word – I’ve never heard of anything like it but I’m already excited about the concept and wonder why it isn’t part of the UK education system! Did your students like this part of the course? How many words did you manage to adopt between you all? Thank you so much for trying to find the link and how depressing it’s been taken down! Sigh indeed!

  24. This is an interesting perspective about words, particularly the part about nature. I’d never thought about it, but if we’re not engaging with nature as much as we used to, then it’s not a part of our consciousness, thus leaving no reason to ponder and have words about it. Hmmm…We’re a part of nature, which is changing, but we’ve not thought about it in a way to preserve it, even with words.

    1. Very well put, Kathy and I think this spiritual connection with nature is in danger of becoming lost as we are in the process of losing the vocabulary with which we relate to it. I suppose that by using social media they are hoping to help preserve some of these words…how successful the experiment is will only come clear in time!

  25. Thank you Annika for this important and beautiful post. I so agree with “your Poetry is found within the words themselves, their sounds a sensory delight, almost tactile and a joy to pronounce (or attempt!). The highly evocative”
    Yes, they are poetic and have a song all their own..

    I fell immediately for Neptunes-uouuo,😊 and shivellight. All are evocative words though.
    Will practise them and add to my vocabulary.🎶

    1. Miriam, thank you so much for your lovely comment and beaming away now! 😀 I like the idea of the words having a song of their own and this describes them perfectly…glad a few new songs have entered your everyday world and enjoy using and sharing…keeping these words of nature alive!😀❤️

  26. Eye-opening! How sad that these words are rarely used – they’re lovely. And I’ll admit, I’ve never heard of them. I wonder if they’re heard/used more in the U.K. than in America? I’m going to save this post and use it for a creative writing class. We need to find ways and reasons to bring these words back in our vocabulary!!

    1. Yeah! I’m so glad this post can be of help in your creative writing class, Pam and hope you all have a lot of fun with these words – some are just such fun to wrap around and pronounce! I liked the idea of using one of the reasons for the loss of these words as a way to bring them back to everyday usage – fingers crossed it works for some of these words! Oh yes, they are from the UK!

  27. Lovely post, Annika. This triggered many thoughts for me. One in regards to the things children are missing out on, thanks to the digital world. Most will never know the wonderful feeling of holding a fancy pen between their fingers and putting it to paper to create beautiful cursive handwriting. That makes me sad. By the way, your photos are gorgeous!

    1. Jill, I think you’re right about the joy of cursive writing being lost and thinking about this I’m quite melancholic. I recall the delight when we were finally allowed to write with fountain pens in middle school and how exciting and grown-up we all felt – and then the hours of handwriting lessons! The digital gives us so much but takes away and detracts at the same time…never an easy balance. Glad you liked the photos – Pixaby came to the rescue this time but it’s fun trawling through their collection!

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