Mountweazels and More!

The 1943 edition of Webster’s Twentieth Century Dictionary contains the following definition:

jungftak, n.–a Persian bird, the male of which had only one wing, on the right side, and the female only one wing, on the left side; instead of the missing wings, the male had a hook of bone, and the female an eyelet of bone, and it was by uniting hook and eye that they were enabled to fly, — each, when alone, had to remain on the ground.


Wow. What a wonderful definition. Who knew there was such a bird?

Actually, there isn’t. It’s an example of a mountweazel, an entirely fabricated definition. But why would Webster’s dictionary, a highly professional and well-respected tome, include it? Well, because dictionaries, like encyclopedias and maps, contain some bogus data.

Why would they do that? To protect their copyrights. A lot of effort goes into the production of these works, and they can be simple to copy. However, if the dictionary contains some definitions that are made up, it’s easy to catch copyright violators.

The source of the term mountweazel is from this bogus biographical entry in the fourth edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975).

Mountweazel, Lillian Virginia, 1942-1973, American photographer, b. Bangs, Ohio. Turning from fountain design to photography in 1963, Mountweazel produced her celebrated portraits of the South Sierra Miwok in 1964. She was awarded government grants to make a series of photo-essays of unusual subject matter, including New York City buses, the cemeteries of Paris, and rural American mailboxes. The last group was exhibited extensively abroad and published as Flags Up! (1972). Mountweazel died at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.

Although Ms. Mountweazel did not exist, a new word found its way into the English language.


In addition to mountweazels, this language of ours abounds with opportunities for fun. For example,

  1. Spoonerisms

Named after Rev. William Spooner, who became infamous for inadvertently switching the beginning sounds of words to hilarious effect. One of Rev. Spooner’s most famous spoonerisms was when he attended church and found someone sitting in his usual seat:

“Someone is occupewing my pie. Please sew me to another sheet.” (“Someone is occupying my pew. Please show me to another seat.”)

  1. Malapropisms

Named after the character “Mrs. Malaprop” from the 1775 play The Rivals, malapropisms replace a word with an incorrect homonym or close relative, again to hilarious effect. One example:

He is the very pineapple of politeness!” (“He is the very pinnacle of politeness.”)

We had a friend who used malapropisms frequently, but unintentionally. She once told me she had a doctor’s appointment. “Is everything okay?” I asked. “Oh, yes. I just have to have my annual milligram.” Our conversations were often bewildering, but always fun.

  1. Tom Swifties

A Tom Swifty is a play on words using a quotation usually ascribed to Tom and followed by an adverb. Here’s an example:

“I need a pencil sharpener,” Tom said bluntly.

Some of my favorite Tom Swifties have been offered here on TKZ.


Okay, TKZ sothers and bristers: It’s your turn. What’s your favorite word? Do you have a favorite play on words or fabricated definition you’d like to share? I bet you’ll come up with some real wise prinners.

This entry was posted in Writing by Kay DiBianca. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kay DiBianca

Kay DiBianca is a former software developer and IT manager who retired to a life of mystery. She’s the award-winning author of The Watch Series of cozy mysteries. Her latest book, "Lacey's Star: A Lady Pilot-in-Command Novel," was released in October 2023. Kay is currently working on the first book in a middle-grade mystery series, "The Reen and Joanie Detective Agency." She's decided three series may be enough to keep her busy for a while. Connect with Kay on her website at

28 thoughts on “Mountweazels and More!

  1. My dad was a huge lover of words, real or of his own invention. When things got messed up, they were verkrenched which probably morphed from verklemmpt.
    He loved spoonerisms. Of course, as kids, we liked the slightly “inappropriate” ones, and a favorite was Leggy Pee, a well known singer. I won’t translate, because I’m sure the minds here at TKZ can figure it out.

    • Good morning, Terry.

      I love made-up words. I’m adding verkrenched to my vocabulary.

      Growing up in a home where words are playmates is a great benefit.

  2. Thanks, Kay, for an interesting beginning to the morning.

    My favorite word? That’s easy. “Yes!”

    Have a great week!

  3. I have a friend who worked for a guy who was a malaprop machine, e.g.,

    Do you realize there are places in Mexico you can still be attacked by the bandanas?

    A loose tongue spoils the whole broth.

    See me at the airport, I got about a two hour hangover.

    But my all time favorite, absolutely true, is from the famous newspaper column Dear
    Abby. For you youngsters out there, this was a syndicated advice column written by a woman with the nom de plume Abigail van Buren. People would send her questions, and she’d dispense advice. It was at one time the most widely syndicated column in the world. Circa the late 60s, she got the following:

    Dear Abby:

    A couple of women moved in across the hall from me. One is a middle-aged gym teacher and the other is a social worker in her mid-twenties. These two women go everywhere together and I’ve never seen a man go into or leave their apartment. Do you think they could be Lebanese?

    • These are hilarious, Jim. For a minute, I was laughing too hard to type. I especially like the two-hour hangover at the airport.

      We’re fortunate that the English language is so rich in humorous acrobatics. I wonder if any other language even comes close.

  4. Good morning, Kay. My favorites are the malapropisms. Norm Crosby used these very successfully. My wife has a natural talent for using them unintentionally. Sometimes she even combines two or three in a row. I wish I had started a list of her doozies. Because of her talent, I call her “Norma.”

    I hope your week is wonderful.

    • I do love malapropisms, Steve. You’re lucky to live with someone who has a talent for them. Keeps you on your toes.

      I also wish I had kept a list of some of the malapropisms our friend used. She passed away a few years ago. But every now and then I think back on one of those conversations we had, and it brings a smile.

      Have a great week!

  5. Good morning, Kay. Thanks for a very delightful post to start off Monday with.
    And I think “mountweazel” might be in the running for my new favorite word, though, like Joe, “yes” currently holds the crown for me.

    I had no idea about phony words being deliberately included in dictionaries as a form of copyright protection. There, I learned something new-to-me today 🙂

    Have a wonderful week!

    • Good morning, Dale.

      I first learned about mountweazels on the podcast “A Way With Words.” Up until then, I didn’t realize dictionaries and encyclopedia contained bogus entries. Or that maps have bogus towns! I was charmed by the definition of the jungftak bird.

      I bet Josephine Tey would have something to say about mountweazels!

      Have a great week.

  6. Okay, here are a few odd terms, their meanings and source:
    Dumpadeedus (posterior) from a plumber.
    Hoskaplop (malarkey) Mark Piasecki.
    Brodenkos (brothers) for “A True Map of the City.”
    Nov shmoz ka pop? (you going my way?) –The Squirrel Cage.
    halforism (half aphorism) for a recent post here.
    Edogawa Rampo (Edgar Allen Poe) –Japanese pen name.
    peckerdillo (peccadillo) made up term.
    zizipompom (horizontal mambo) French, onomatopoetic.
    railendingdingshparkenmacher (streetcar) Dave Morrah.
    J. Y. Vimpta (guess the origin!) character name.
    “Foster’s Disease” (a fake illness) Chet D’Anna
    “The Bakersfield Manual of Style” (oilpatch grammar guide)
    scrotabellum (the male auxiliary brain)
    “wiring farts to cardboard” (pointless effort) from my mother
    “extravaganzo” (pageant) Jim Varney

    • Good morning, JG.

      Thanks for the great list. I had a feeling you’d come up with something good.

      My favorite: “railendingdingshparkenmacher” I really need to work that into a conversation soon.

      Have a good week.

      • A friend of mine was struck by a Railendingdingshparkenmacher while in Munich. He was helped up, dusted off, his passport checked, and sent on his way, apparently uninjured. About 9 months later, he received an envelope from Stadtwerke München containing a letter and several forms to fill out. I took it home and translated it. He believed it was a release or related insurance forms.

        But no. It was a bill for damages to the streetcar.

  7. Hilarious, Kay! Thanks for the warning about dictionaries…another thing to be wary of, I guess.

    Mountweazel . . . I love it!

    My favorite words are ones made up by children. Mine, to be exact, and my younger siblings when we were under three feet tall. Is there a cool term for that? Kiddisms maybe?

    My younger brother said oppercollar for “helicopter”. And eggobug for “earwig”. I still find myself thinking those two words when I see a helicopter and an earwig, although the second reminds me now of a waffle for some reason!

    And, this isn’t really a word, but a phrase my youngest said to me when I was traveling and called to check in on the fam. She, all of 3 years old, got on the phone and blurted out, “Momma, where is you is?”

    Think about the brilliance of that question for a moment. I remember laughing at her at the time, but then the question just found a home in my brain cells.

    And now it’s in one of my novel WIPs, asked by a 3 year old of her Momma. 🙂

    Waste nothing.

    • Good morning, Deb.

      Kiddisms. Children are the best inventors of new words, and “kiddisms” definitely should be in the dictionary. It’s so interesting about your young brother’s pronunciation of “helicopter.” Brought back a memory: When our son was a tyke, he called it a “hebbacopper.”

      I love that you’re using your daughter’s “Momma, where is you is?” in your novel. Looking forward to reading it.

    • Thanks for this, Marilynn. I never thought to do the translate out and then back again. I’ll have to try translating a Shakespeare sonnet into another language and then back to English to see what happens.


  8. What fun, Kay! Love the bogus dictionary entries. How do you pronounce “jungftak”? I couldn’t wrap my tongue around that one.

    The repairman who fixed my refrigerator recently introduced me to several new vocabulary words:

    skudgy – the condition of the contacts on the refrigerator defroster fan that had quit working.
    schmitz – greasy smears on eyeglasses.
    scubba – grimy, greasy coating, a synonym for schmitz.

    He didn’t know the origins of these words but he thought maybe Yiddish.

    Okay, I’ll bite. What the heck are sothers and bristers?

    • Good morning, Debbie.

      Thank you for giving us “schmitz” and “scubba.” I’m constantly complaining about my glasses getting dirty. Now I know how to describe it to my optometrist!

      Sothers and bristers — Spoonerism for brothers and sisters. (I thought I was being clever, but it doesn’t work if people don’t get the joke. I guess I’m going to have to leave the funny stuff to others who are better at it! 🙂 )

  9. Love this post, Kay. My contribution comes from my late mother-in-law.
    Whopperjawed, meaning something was backward.
    Another was a saying: I’m as full as if I’d eaten a snowbird. I never figured out if that was a compliment or a putdown. lol

  10. Dear Kay, Here are a few for your collection:
    hypodeemic nerdle (spoonerism)
    fingerspitzenguhfehl (made up German word meaning to test the wind, either actually or metaphorically)
    floor-to-floor carpeting (malapropism; my darling Jewish MIL who came out with them all the time)
    “He hoots! he s____s! (Excited sportscaster, trying to say “He shoots! He hits! –unintentional spoonerism by a real life, well known sportscaster)

    By the way, “schmitz” is probably Yiddish for schmutz” (dirt) –actually Penna Dutch but who’s counting? Speaking of which, now there’s a group (I belong) who come up with some remarkable constructions: Papa is all (dead); It’s making down (raining), Bump, the bell don’t make (doorbell is broken) and best of all “Throw mama from the train a kiss,”

  11. What a fun post, Kay! The definition of jungftak is beautiful and heartwarming. My brain’s fried from writing all day (final week of my deadline), so I’m afraid the creativity well is too low to add to your list. Nonetheless, I enjoyed your post. 🙂

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