The world needs more xenodochy. And more words. My husband and I agree on the first point, and argue the second when we’ve nothing else to bicker about – which is most of the time.

He, a Lean Six Sigma professional, sees a plethora of synonyms as a hindrance to clear and straightforward communication. I see them as part of the 128-color box of crayons, as opposed to the cheap little set of three waxy, primary colors and a token green handed out to kids in nice restaurants to keep them frustrated – but quietly so – in their creative endeavors.

I may have accused my husband of wanting to exterminate imagination. That’s undeniably unfair of me, of course, and I will grudgingly admit that he has a point – although perhaps that point could be honed and channeled into squashing business buzzwords and marketing-speak, not dumbing down the language as a whole, simply to ensure that directions can be followed without lugging about an unabridged dictionary.

There is a time and a place.

They say that “Necessity is the mother of Invention,” but I would argue that boredom has spurred on at least as much invention as necessity has – or that our need to alleviate boredom is the most motivating need of all.

I think I’ve mentioned, before, the mischief I used to get up to, when confronted with the query, “What did you learn in school today?” I can’t tell you how many times, over the past three decades, I’ve wanted to bite off my own tongue for asking it. My children are no happier to hear it than I ever was, and yet it slips from the lips as naturally as breathing. My first addition to the lexicon was prompted by such a question, because the real answer was, “Pretty much the same as yesterday, nothing new.” That seemed deadly dull.

And so, I piped up from the back seat of the car (fortunately in the dark, where the adults couldn’t see me suppressing giggles and incredulity that they believed me): “Ampiology.”

“What on earth is that?”

Ohhh, now I had to think on my feet! What was that? “You know how when you have to do a whole bunch of things to numbers, like… two plus six times seven divided by three plus nine minus seventy three? That’s ampiology.”

And combining my age and relative lack of adeptness with numbers, I could hear the niggling doubt in the grown-ups’ voices, but I also realized they weren’t quite sure I was in the back seat spewing utter nonsense crafted on the spur of the moment. I’d probably at least heard the word, somewhere. It probably existed. Rather than call shenanigans on the whole thing, they looked it up when we got home.

Hah! Made ya look…

It’s not there.

Or is it? 


We may yet live to see it added to the dictionary, Dad.

Back to Xenodochy
(An update, 05/03/2016)

I feel I’ve let you down, unless you clicked the link at the top of this post. Who knew I’d have nearly six hundred visitors to this post, alone, in one day?

Yes, I, too, was looking for interesting X words to fill a day in the Blogging A to Z Challenge – and this one was new to me. We speak a lot of xenophobia, the fear of strangers or foreigners, but this was the first I’d heard the word xenodochy: “kindness to strangers or foreigners.”


It’s an old, little known word from the Greek. The reference, above, is from 1737, found in “An universal etymological English dictionary: Volume 2,” Nathan Bailey, January 1, 1737. And we do need more of it – because the world we live in is no longer made up of small, isolated, self-sufficient tribes. It is made up of complex communities comprised of people who hold incredibly diverse views, whose experiences are vastly different, and whose skin color and ethnicity is like that 128-color box of crayons. These things are to be embraced, appreciated, used for good – or they will drive tiny wedges between us that will make civilization fall like a cracked mirror.

I long for the day when we can move past the superficial means of grouping and categorizing each other, and get to know what’s really interesting inside.

Your Turn

Is language nuanced by synonyms enriching or confounding communication?

Think of your favorite fiction – what kind of language do you prefer? One that stretches vocabulary and imagination, or one that gets straight to the point with spare prose?

There are no “wrong” answers here – my husband and I disagree, but we’ve loved each other for 34 years!


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
Please share this post!

14 thoughts on “Xenodochy”

  1. If it’s written in a way that it becomes a chore to read, or if it sounds overly intellectual for no reason, I’m not a fan of that type of writing. But if it has a unique meaning that really requires the specific word, then I think it’s fine.

    1. I knew I should’ve said “Hemingway or Shakespeare or Poe or James Joyce?” 🙂 I agree, though. I wonder why academics still write “academic prose”? I’m pretty sure they don’t enjoy reading it any more than anyone else. Law students were learning to write clearly and edit OUT redundant or ambiguous “legalese” decades ago. The legal profession probably set a really bad example for business and marketing – I can’t think of any other reason for adding -ize to perfectly good words that originally meant the same thing, for example. 😀

  2. I like to use the perfect synonym, but find that my mind looks for it in my own vocabulary, from years of reading, not in the thesaurus.

    Nuance is especially important in fiction – as long as it doesn’t cause the reading to slow by being pretentious or obscure.

    And, like chips in a chocolate chip cookie, there CAN be too many.

    If every word in a sentence, paragraph, or novel is the most complicated version of that word available (or coined), it gets very tedious to parse the meaning. I don’t bother.

    But if the very perfect right word is used, like a diamond in its setting, where anything else just wouldn’t work, it is a treasure.

    And it better not slow the story down.

    Or you’ve moved over to the bad-literary part of fiction, written for only those with MFAs from the period.
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…Worldwide sale means thirteen Kindle marketplacesMy Profile

  3. I can get annoyed with some fantasy novels where the names are all made up and just sound the same. I had no problem following Dune: different genre, same new names and titles. Often it just gets in the way and, like another commentator, it just stops me from reading.

    Now, on the other hand I LOVE “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess. The words just flowed for me.
    Stuart Nager recently posted…Yesterday’s Sorrows (A to Z Blog Challenge)My Profile

    1. In some cases, the SF names are just a self-conscious imitation of the masters of SF, done in a way that draws undue attention to unpronounceable and weird names that have no real bearing on the story, anyway. It pulls you out of the dream (see my post on Virtual Reality and suspension of disbelief) and that’s as annoying as having the alarm clock go off at 4:02 AM. What pulled me out of “A Clockwork Orange” was the misogyny and violence. 🙂 The language, though, was masterful.

    1. Erm, um, you mean the link that goes to itself – on the post “Ze End”? 🙂 It works… it’s just self-referential, if that’s the one you mean. It won’t wisk you off to a second, hidden version of itself. Although that would’ve been a cool test to see if anyone but you ever clicks my links! 🙂

      It has to work if the really cool plug-in I installed to build links based on categories and tags works, and it appears to do so – quite well, really. I just found it on a whim, yesterday. I’m pleased. Now I have another blog post to share – to tout that lovely little thing.

    2. LOL – OMG, thank you, Alicia, for finding a bug in that wonderful new plug-in I added yesterday. (That’s what was causing the bizarreness on the home page, which might be fun to replicate if I understood HOW it did that in the first place!) Okay… well, may not be singing the praises of that plug-in, after all.

      1. Sorry to break your new toy; I just figured you’d want to know.

        Especially when I know you’re probably posting daily, I do a quick check – and the rest is now history.

        I can try to reconstruct this evening (out of time right now) if you still need me to – ah, checked my bookmark to http://jahangiri.us/2013/
        and it works fine now.
        Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…Worldwide sale means thirteen Kindle marketplacesMy Profile

    1. That was how I felt about it, Alana. When you get to X, it’s hard to find something fresh and new (even with an unabridged dictionary at hand). I liked this one (and had never seen it before). I thought, at first, that it WAS a made-up word (as many are, there at that section of the site). Then I realized it’s not, and was delighted to learn (and teach!) a new word. Apparently, I’m not the only one – that entry just skyrocketed to nearly 1000 views!

      Of course, we talk about “made up words,” but…aren’t they ALL??
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Mother, Touchstone, FriendMy Profile

Comments are closed.