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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) fruitless searching, the act of looking for something that cannot be found

You know when you’re looking for something, and then it finally dawns on you that you threw it out weeks ago? That’s epaudithism.

This is a word first recorded way back in the 1680s, in a brilliantly titled Glossarie of th’ Arcane, compiled by an English historian and antiquarian named GP Howard. In his Glossarie, Howard collected together around fifty words that were, in his opinion, “in a state ... of being seldom incountered [sic]” in written English. And despite its obvious usefulness, epaudithism was one of those words.

Etymologically, there’s something of a puzzle here. The prefix e– (a reduced form of the more familiar Latin prefix ex–) can be used to create words carrying some sense of being out of something—or, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, “destitute of some feature”. It’s also been suggested that the “pau” lurking in the middle of this word might somehow be related to paucus, a Latin word meaning ‘few’ or ‘scarce numbers’ (and the origin of our word paucity).

How those two units work together here—and how they came to be used specifically in searching for something of which there is none in existence—is, however, a mystery.

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