27 quirksome, mirthsome, and gamesome words
Cumbersome, handsome, quarrelsome, troublesome: all of these words feature the adjective suffix -some. The suffix generally means ‘having or causing a particular quality’. Something bothersome leads to annoyance, for instance, while something wholesome promotes well-being. The ending, from the Old English sum, is source of the pronoun and adjective some, etymologically related to the word same, and used in numerical groupings, as golfers know when they hit the links in foursomes.
Historically, -some was a fairly common means of forming new adjectives. Winsome, or ‘attractive’ or ‘appealing’, features an old sense of win, ‘joy’, and survives from Old English. Loathsome, meanwhile, has been ‘inciting hate or disgust’ since Middle English. Awesome was first ‘full of awe’ in Early Modern English before enjoying a second life – irksome as some may find it – as a general expression for ‘great’ or ‘excellent’. In the 19th century, as we’ll see in the list below, -some inspired many playful and humorous coinages like picklesome or pranksome, 19th-century ways to say ‘mischievous’.
Today, -some is largely unproductive, that is, seldom used to form new words. Consider another suffix descended from Old English, -y, which we widely and freely use to make adjectives out of even the unlikeliest of words: interrupty, an example I recently heard, characterized someone given to verbal interruptions. And while quite a few -some words still hang around now – from more ordinary ones like fearsome, gruesome, tiresome, and worrisome to the more unusual buxom, fulsome, noisome, and toothsome – many sit lonesome, forgotten or underused in the dusty annals of our language.
So, add some fun, flare, or even sophistication to your vocabulary with these playsome, likesome, and adventuresome -some words:
This describes ‘cold, windy, and bracing’ weather and can still be heard around Newfoundland, Canada. In the late 1500s, airsome could more literally refer to something ‘high in the air’.
Have you ever been told that ‘only boring people use the word boring’? Well, boring people definitely don’t use this late 19th-century synonym.
A late 19th-century U.S. coinage meaning ‘awkward to handle’ or ‘bungling’.
This late 19th-century example, often used to describe women, babies, and toys, would be a useful revival for reactions to animals on the Internet.
‘Noisy, full of din’. An early 18th-century Scottish usage with no relation to the Chinese food.
Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson famously killed actor Gabriel Spenser in a duel with swords in 1598, and then US Vice President Aaron Burr took down former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton with pistols in 1804. We might say these men were duelsome, or given to duelling.
‘Pleasing to the eye’, a poetical usage dating back to the 1500-1600s, and sensory counterpart to toothsome. Alas, I can find no earsome, touchsome, or nosesome (not to be confused with noisome or noisesome).
‘Flea-ridden’. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first cites in James Payn’s 1853 poem, ‘On our dog Jock’: a gleesome fleasome affectionate beast.
Ultimately from the verb flay, something flaysome causes quite the fright.
Something furthersome helps further something along, as in furthersome to one’s goals. The OED dates this construction in the 1620s, though by the 1860s it took on the sense of ‘rash’.
Another late 19th-century formation to describe someone who likes to take bets or risks.
Late 19th century, ’given to giggling’.
Characterizing weather good for growing crops or livestock likely to get much bigger. The OED cites a usage in 1843: ‘Our pig is such a growsome little thing; it will eat anything.’
Originally, a 16th-century Scottish word for ‘courageous’ or ‘heartwarming’.
The opposite of furthersome.
If you find a lot of things irksome, you might have been called humoursome in the 1600s. This ‘peevish’ word more generally meant to ‘subject to moods’ or humours, as they were once called. Humoursome could also mean ‘whimsical’ or ‘amusing’.
‘Huggable’, but as the OED cites it in Farmer and Henley’s 1893 Slang dictionary, a euphemism for some much more amatory inclinations.
An exaggerated form of troublesome. Jeremy Bentham bemoaned some his more vexing memories as plaguesome in 1828.
Why say ‘perplexing’ when you could say riddlesome?
And why say ‘witty’ when could this quipsome?
We might call something fearsome shuddersome, yet another 19th-century -some formation.
And we might call a shuddersome person timorsome, which emerges by the 1600s for ‘afraid’.
Like a ‘nimble’ dancer or lively ‘song’, tripsome, attested in the 1840s, preserves an earlier sense of trip, ‘light and quick movement,’ as in a tripping gait.
Something ugglesome is ‘gruesome’. This word, recorded in the 16th century, features a variant form of ugly, which originally characterized a ‘frightful’ or ‘horrible’ appearance.
Someone wranglesome is ‘quarrelsome’.
Does your child always find a way to wriggle out of your hands if you’re trying to comb their hand or give them a bath. Why, they’re wrigglesome.
This long obsolete word, meaning ‘loathsome’ in Old English, is doubly impressive: not only is an unusual -some word, but it also features a word beginning with the very rare consonant cluster wl-. In Old English, wlat meant ‘nausea, disgust, or loathing.’