Weekly Word: Weissnichtwo

The 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee is this week, and the website lists two of the spellers’ favorite words: humuhumunukunukuapuaa (“a small Hawaiian triggerfish”) and Weissnichtwo, which is “an indefinite, unknown, or imaginary place”. I don’t even know how to pronounce it, never mind spell it!

This obscure German word (meaning “know not where”) was made up by Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. Weissnichtwo was the name of a fictional city in the book Sartor Resartus, Carlyle’s major work. You’ll have to read the book (or at least the Wikipedia entry) to figure out the reason behind the name.

By the way, I’m actually very familiar with that other word, humuhumunukunukuapuaa. We had one in our fish tank when I was little. It was a cute, tiny little thing; as they say, “the name is longer than the fish” (see Wikipedia). But wow, did that fish have teeth! Ever since then, those painful nips at my fingertips are what I remember best when I think about the state fish of Hawaii.