Apocryphal: you don't know the meaning of the word!

I learnt a new word yesterday.  Exciting!  And in the true spirit of having learnt a new word, I had to share it.  So out goes a text to the people I thought would indulge my text with a response.

Word of the day: Apocryphal
Definition: Probably not true, but widely believed to be true.

My brother was first to respond, and it was with a word of his own.  Being a medical student, he likes to throw the odd esoteric item my way every now and then, coming back and expanding the theme with "word of the month."  This was a bold title, but having read the word and its definition, it was one I could not in the least bit dispute.  Consider it payback for all those years I knew more than him as his older brother, and perhaps the times I used to practice powerbombing him on our parents’ bed. 

[Note: I wouldn’t recommend searching his word on Google Images, especially for those of you in the process of handling or preparing raw meat.]   

But anyway, what’s my point?  Yes: apocryphal.  The meanings vary; my Oxford University Press dictionary defines it in the context of a story or piece of information (“widely known but unlikely to be true”), while Dictionary.com leaves the word open to interpretation (“of doubtful authorship or authenticity”). 

The definition I’d texted my brother was taken from the Encarta Dictionary (click Shift + F7 while in Microsoft Word and you might find you have access to it).  My intrigue for the word extended beyond its meaning.  I found myself stressing each of its four syllables to hear how it sounded before returning to Dictionary.com for its accepted pronunciation (uh-pok-ruh-fuhl). 

But what can I say: I like the process of trialling certain words on the tongue just to see how they sound in the open.  Let’s call it a spoken word sound check.  Everyone’s done it.  And yet I bask in the prospect of mispronouncing words (though certainly not for lack of trying) almost as much as hearing others mispronouncing them. Like that uncommon surname that even your teachers would get wrong on the register during the first day of term, sometimes there are as many ways to say certain words as there are ways to scan a kit.  Hang on…

First and foremost, I love Encarta Dictionary’s definition of it.  The use of “true” twice in one sentence is slightly jarring and unsettling for a definition, but it is rather charming all the same.  It’s a line I could imagine Boris Johnson mumbling as part of a speech or an answer to a question he's been trained to skirt around -

Uh, Probably not true - no, not at all – but, of course, widely, widely believed to be true, all the same

- because it reeks of question avoidance tactics (politicians can go on courses for this) the British public has become accustomed to when a politician is put on the back foot by the likes of Jeremy Paxman.  The definition is a contradiction on first glance, but a very charming one on second.  Let’s hope I have cause to use it in the not-too-distant future!     


  1. "Apocryphal" is indeed a fine word, and one I need to include in more conversations, ie "That story about R****** G*** and the hamster turned out to be apocryphal... shame!"

    I'd never heard of "gubernaculum" before. Nice one! On the subject of medical lingo, another cool one is "episiotomy" - but, again, best not to Google it. I've seen one performed and I'm now, er, scarred for life ;-)

    cerebus660 ( Simon )

    BTW Thanks for Following my blog, Tom :-)

  2. Cheers, Simon! Thanks for taking the time to read. Comments are few and far between on my blog so it was great to see your reply on the morning after my post. It wasn't the post I had intended to write, but I was so amused by the word and its meaning that it sent me in a different direction. I was going to mention that I consider the Curly Wurly is something of an apocryphal, that is under the definition of the Encarta dictionary. Everyone believes that the bars were bigger when we used to have them as kids, but I think it's just an illusion: they seemed bigger when we ate them as kids because we were smaller, hence "Probably not true, but widely believed to be true." Love your blog, by the way. Let me know if there are any film blogs worth following. Tom.

  3. The word has a biblical past: it refers to the "Apocrypha", a collective term for all the books of the bible that were not ratified by the Church, hence excluded from the official versions (that's right: some sacred writings are apparently more sacred than others). You can still buy copies of the bible that contain it: I believe there is a gospel of Saint Thomas that speaks of Jesus casting magic spells as a child. Probably the most famous part of the Apocrypha is the Gospel according to Judas. And it just goes to show: that the story about God not needing an editor is quite, quite apocryphal.

  4. On the subject of film blogs, as well as the usual sites ( imdb, Empire, SFX etc. ), I also follow:

    Hollywood Spy @http://hollywood-spy.blogspot.co.uk/ ( Blogger Dezz is very quick with all the latest news )

    Capes On Film @http://www.capesonfilm.com/ ( my mate Matthew's super hero-centric blog )

    Movie Cafe @http://movie-cafe.blogspot.co.uk/ ( a good little site that's been quiet lately )

  5. Haha! Very amusing, and it is a great word. I'd hate to have to rhyme it though ...

    On the vital topic of Curly Wurly shrinkage, I am not an expert there. But I am almost certain that Mars Bars are not as well-endowed as they once were. The depth of chocolate has most definitely diminished so that the satisfying crunch one gets on biting into one is significantly reduced. Sad times indeed. :-(


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