In a profile of engineer/author Henry "Professor Pencil" Petroski and the cabin he owns with his wife Catherine Petroski in Arrowsic, ME, the New York Times described the Petroski's early romance. Both logophiles, the Petroskis exchanged words in place of flowers and chocolates.

The Petroskis, who are in their early 70s and will have been married 48 years next month, are a pair of logophiles who met in graduate school at the University of Illinois when their roommates, who were also dating, set them up. He was an engineering major and wrote sonnets to her as part of the wooing process. She was an English major, but she did not write him sonnets in return, she said, although they did engage in a fierce word-stumper competition, in which each would write the most bizarre, arcane words he or she could come up with on slips of paper and hand them to the other to define, in a routine that continued into the early years of their marriage.

This is the kind of game that might be fun for those of us drawn to word learning at so we invite you to take a crack at it. You don't have to be falling in love to enjoy it, though if you are, and it works, let us know!

Or take a lighter approach to word games with the Victorian parlor game Fictionary (sometimes known as Dictionary and popularized as a board game under the name Balderdash) in which players try to stump one another with fictional definitions of arcane words. Here are some examples of Fictionary challenges we've posted on Twitter.

Fictionary Word Stumpers

  1. Is an oenophile a) "someone who takes on excess responsibility, who 'owns' their projects"? Or b) "someone who appreciates wine"?
  2. Is an imbroglio a) "a confusing and embarrassing personal situation"? Or b) "an Italian dish of pasta and roasted chicken"?
  3. Is hebetude a) "mental lethargy or dullness"? Or b) "feeling freaked out as in 'the beebie jeebies"?
  4. Is obloquy a) "a thank you note written to someone when you can't recall what they gave you"? Or b) "a state of disgrace"?
  5. Does Stygian describe a place that is a) "dark and gloomy"? Or b) "randomly decorated and dusty"?
  6. Does inveigle mean a) "to blindfold and disorient" Or b) "to influence via flattery"?
  7. Is a caldera a) "a work of sculpture by Alexander Calder"? Or b) "a crater formed after volcanic eruption"?
  8. Is animadversion a) "harsh critical comment or put down"? Or b) "fear of animals"?
  9. Is a litotes a) "a chemical opposite"? Or b) "a form of rhetorical understatement, as in 'I wouldn't say he's handsome'"?
  10. Does horripilate mean a) "to have your hair to stand/get goose bumps"? Or b) "to participate in an advanced form of Pilates"?

If you enjoy this challenge, write your own fictionary clue as a comment below. Or add these words to your play by clicking "learn" on the word's definition page in the Dictionary. 

Answers: 1) b, 2) a, 3) a, 4) b, 5) a, 6) b, 7) b, 8) a, 9) b, 10) a.