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Over the weekend I was looking through my bookshelves when I came upon a volume I didn’t know I had: The Superior Person’s Second Book of Weird & Wondrous Words by Peter Bowler. An inscription revealed it had been left behind for me by the late Marge Piaggio, who with her daughter Rose had been my houseguest for several months two decades ago.

Galeanthropy

The book was a reminder of how many “big” words I don’t understand. For example, galeanthropy. As it turns out, galeanthropy refers to a mental condition in which one believes he’s become a cat. This rare condition can be manifested by adopting feline mannerisms such as purring, affectionate nuzzling, and pouncing.

And then there’s castrophenia, the belief that one’s thoughts are being stolen by enemies. The illusion, however, is not as bad as nastrophenia, the belief that one’s thoughts are not worth stealing.

Metrophobia

My wife Lynn writes poetry and reads it to me. I enjoy listening to her read a few of her poems — but not too many in succession. I fear this leads Lynn to suspect I suffer from metrophobia, a morbid dread of poetry, which I don’t have. I’ve read that “many people first develop this phobia in school when overzealous teachers encourage them to rank poems according to artificial scales, break them down, and search for esoteric meanings.” Lynn does not do this. She just wants my opinion as I hear the words.

We seldom use the word succussion, which means shaking, although Jerry Lee Lewis originally wrote his magnum opus as Whole Lot of Succussion Goin’ On. He changed it when the League of American Matrons objected because they mistakenly thought succussion referred to “an indelicate form of sexual congress,” Bowler’s book notes.

And what’s a remontado? It’s someone who flees to the mountains and renounces civilization. I’ve known a couple of those guys.

Of course, sometimes a listener’s confusion results from word order, not inadequate vocabulary. In 1957 singers Johnnie and Joe and in 1963 singer Bobby Vinton had hits with Over the Mountain; Across the Sea (“there’s a girl, she’s waiting for me”). One line, oddly enough, seems to contain an off-color double entendre: “Over the river and beyond every cloud, she’s passed the wind that’s blowing loud.” The singers seem pleased that they can hear her cut the cheese.