Different Meanings of Hallmark

Until recently, I attached only one figurative meaning to the word hallmark:
A distinctive mark or token of genuineness, good breeding, or excellence.
Here are some examples of the word used in the sense of a trait that denotes admirable excellence:
The hallmark of a scholar is attention to detail.
Indeed, if style, grace, intellect, and capacity for rebirth are the hallmarks of [a Renaissance woman], then Lois Wilson qualified in every sense.
The hallmark of an honest politician is an innate understanding that their most sacred duty is to fulfill the responsibilities of their office.  
Emotional intelligence is the hallmark of a good leader.
Osbeck also noted a fourth writing trait—elegance—which he describes as the “hallmark of great legal writing.”
Rereading, editing, and revising the initial draft into a good paper are the hallmarks of good writing.
In each of these examples, the idea of excellence is implicit in the word hallmark. This connotation of excellence derives from the word’s literal meaning: “a mark or device placed or stamped upon an article of trade to indicate origin, purity, or genuineness.”
The practice of placing marks of origin and authenticity on products made of gold or silver dates to the early Middle Ages. One such mark in England was a leopard’s head. In the 15th century, when a law required all goldsmiths to bring their wares to Goldsmiths’ Hall in London to be marked, the identifying device came to be known as a hallmark.
Hallmark seems to have retained its connotation of quality and excellence until the 20th century.
For example, the Hallmark Greeting Card Company was founded in 1910. Founder Joyce Clyde Hall felt that greeting cards “represented class.” Playing on the founder’s name and the goldsmith’s mark of excellence, the company adopted the name Hallmark in 1928.
By midcentury, however, writers had begun using the word absent its connotation of worthiness:
Do you know the hallmark of a second rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement.—Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957).
Writers familiar with the word’s positive associations continue to use it to denote excellence. For others, hallmark has devolved into a mere synonym for trait or “distinguishing characteristic”:
Ruthlessness, deception and devious behavior is [sic] the hallmark of the successful politician.
Expression of multiple horizontally acquired genes is a hallmark of both vertebrate and invertebrate genomes.
A Hallmark of Alzheimer’s Can Show Up in Young People Too
There’s even evidence that some speakers aren’t too sure that hallmark means trait:
Many researchers have also theorized that a lack of self-awareness is a hallmark trait of narcissists.
Writers who prefer to reserve hallmark to denote “proof of excellence,” may choose from the following list for words to convey the idea of trait or characteristic:
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Source: Vocabulary

10 Fleshy Words

Latin words meaning flesh and fleshly (carnis, carnalis), have given English several words, some of which refer to human flesh and some to the flesh of animals.
1. carnage noun: a heap of dead bodies, especially of men killed in battle.
The Anglo-Saxon poem “The Battle of Maldon” describes the carnage that ensues when the local militia confronts Viking raiders. The fates of several Anglo-Saxon warriors are depicted—notably that of Earl Byrhtnoth: he dies valiantly, urging his soldiers forward and commending his soul to God.
Carnage is also used in a non-military context to describe the bloody aftermath of any killing event:
Firefighters have described the carnage and confusion they found when they arrived on the scene of the Paddington rail crash in which 31 people died.
2. carnal adjective: pertaining to the body. In Medieval Latin, a frater carnalis was a biological brother. In modern usage, carnal refers to the sensual or sexual aspects of the body. The noun is carnality and the adverb is carnally.
Detectives charged the 27-year-old with felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile.
In religious thought, carnal is the opposite of spiritual.
A carnal mind is not necessarily a sinful mind. However, all sin is carnal. A carnal mind is simply a mind that is governed entirely by the senses.
3. carnation adjective: a light rosy pink; noun: a flower, scientific name Dianthus, which may be shades of pink or red. The plural carnations is used as an art term: “those parts in a painting that represent the naked skin.”
Vecelli observed that a colorist ought to manipulate white, black and red, and that the carnations cannot be done in a first painting, but by replicating various tints and mingling the colors.
4. carnelian noun: a flesh-colored, deep red, or reddish-white variety of chalcedony; adjective: of the color of a carnelian.
My stepmother was, if rather richly, always plainly dressed, in the sober Quaker mode; almost her only ornament was a large carnelian brooch, set in flowered flat gold.
5. carnival noun: originally, the medieval religious celebration preceding Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The word derives from a phrase meaning “the putting away of flesh.” In modern usage, a carnival is any season of feasting, revelry, or indulgence. In North American English, a carnival is a fun fair with rides and entertainment booths.
6. carnivore noun: (Latin carnivorus, “flesh-eating”) A carnivore is an animal that eats only meat. People whose diet includes meat are often jokingly referred to as carnivores, in contrast to vegans and vegetarians.
My husband and children are carnivores, and yes, I do prepare their food for them.
7. carnivorous adjective: (Latin carni, “flesh” + vorus, “devouring”) The accent is on the second syllable.
Since neither humans nor chimpanzees are truly carnivorous—most traditional human societies eat a diet made up mostly of plant foods—we are considered omnivores.
Note: An omnivore feeds on a diet of both plant and animal origin.
8. charnel house noun: (Old French charnel) a house for dead bodies; a house or vault in which the bones of the dead are piled up.
Recently in the Orkney Isles in Scotland, a charnel house has revealed more than 1,000 human bones.
9. incarnation noun: the action of incarnating; the fact of being incarnated or “made flesh”

The Incarnation in traditional Christianity is the belief that the second person of the Trinity, also known as God the Son or the Logos (Word), “became flesh” by being conceived in the womb of Mary.
10. incarnate adjective: clothed or invested with flesh; embodied in flesh; in a human (or animal) bodily form.
Until the latter half of the T’ang dynasty, some emperors had even claimed to be the Buddha incarnate.
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Source: Vocabulary


Because I’m in the habit of blithely flinging the word idiom about as if everyone should know what I mean by it, this comment from a reader brought me up short:
I guess I don’t know what an idiom is.
The word idiom derives from a Greek word meaning “appropriate to oneself.” In the context of language, an idiom is a usage peculiar to a particular language.
When I use the word idiom, I usually mean one of two things:
1. A construction or usage peculiar to English
For example, in English, we state our age with the verb to be: “I am twenty-one years old.” Speakers of French and Spanish, on the other hand, use their verbs for to have (avoir and tener): “J’ai vingt-et-un ans.” “Tengo vientiuno”—literally, “I have twenty-one years.” These distinctive ways of stating age in different languages are idioms.
2. An expression that means something other than what is expressed by the individual words in it
For example, consider the words kick and bucket. The meaning of to kick is “to thrust out the foot or feet with force.” The meaning of bucket is “a vessel for catching, holding, or carrying liquids or solids.” Kick and bucket may be used with their denoted meanings:
The girl overturned the bucket when she kicked it.
The frustrated farmer kicked the bucket down the hill.
But the idiom “to kick the bucket,” conveys a meaning that has nothing obvious to do with kicking or buckets:
I don’t want to kick the bucket until I’ve seen Rome.
The idiom “to kick the bucket” means “to die.”
The adjective for idiom is idiomatic. When I say that a particular usage as idiomatic, I mean that it “sounds right” in English. For example, here are two examples of unidiomatic English from sales letters:
UNIDIOMATIC ENGLISH: I have a huge interest in making business with you.
IDIOMATIC ENGLISH: I’m very interested in doing business with you.
UNIDIOMATIC ENGLISH: On getting an opportunity, I can add value to your content writing solution.
IDIOMATIC ENGLISH: Given the opportunity, I can add value to your site content.
The word idiom is also used with these meanings:
3. The kind of language and grammar used by a particular people at a particular time or place.
So, too, in the expressive language of Wall Street do we find illumination of all that has taken place. For in its idiom is crystallized the wisdom of a hundred years.
4. The style of writing, music, art, etc. that is typical of a particular time or place.
Copland’s music was infused with the folk and jazz idioms of America.
Related post:
Idiomatic English
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Source: Vocabulary


Ancient Egyptians had hieroglyphics. Modern Man has emojis.
Since the 1980s, symbols to express emotions have proliferated in cyberspace.
At first they were made with what was available on the keyboard, like the smiley face made with a colon, a hyphen, and a parenthesis. Now, thanks to Unicode, they appear as true pictures: faces, hands, heads, cupcakes, robots, even a swirly pile of brown poop with eyes and a smile.
These symbols acquired a name in 1990: emoticon, a portmanteau word made by combining emotion and icon.
In 1997 or so, the Japanese word for pictograph—emoji—went international as a term for emoticons produced with Unicode.
Note: The similarity of emoji to emoticon is coincidental. The Japanese word was coined in 1928, perhaps on the model of English pictograph: Japanese e = picture; moji = letter or character.
So far, more than 700 emojis are available, with more on the way.
Vyvyan Evans, a professor of linguistics at Bangor University (Wales), refers to the use of emojis as a language called Emoji:
Emoji is the fastest growing form of language ever based on its incredible adoption rate and speed of evolution. As a visual language emoji has already eclipsed hieroglyphics, its ancient Egyptian precursor, which took centuries to develop.
According to a Table Talk Mobile survey of 2,000 Britons, ages 18-65, “more than eight in 10 Brits are now using emoji to communicate regularly.” Users in the 18 to 25-year-old age bracket said they found it easier to put their feelings across in emoji icons than in text. Of the over forties, 54% said they were confused by what the symbols meant.
Professor Evans doesn’t think that pictorial language will replace the kind that depends on words, but he does expect it to augment written language, making it “more appealing to younger readers”:
I think it’s conceivable that emoji will increasingly be used to complement digital versions of written works. For instance, the inclusion of emoji to help convey meaning in abridged versions of Shakespeare could help bring those great stories to life for a whole new generation.
Although I think that emojis are fun to use, I’m glad that I learned to understand and appreciate Shakespeare without the aid of picture writing. My high school generation not only read the plays as they were written, we memorized whole swathes of words from Julius Caesar (9th grade), As You Like It (10th grade), Romeo and Juliet (11th grade), and Macbeth (12th grade). I suppose this description from Macbeth could be rendered in Emoji, but I doubt the drawings of a bird and some trees would send goose bumps down my arms all these years later:
Light thickens, and the crow
Makes wing to th’ rooky wood.
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
Whiles night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.
But, different times, different customs.
BBC’s Newsbeat, a site aimed at a young audience, features a weekly news quiz written in emoji.
Tennis player Andy Murray tweeted about his wedding in emoji.
Note: There is disagreement as to the plural of emoji. Some speakers prefer to use the same form for both: one emoji/two emoji. Others think that emoji should follow the English rule and add s to form the plural: one emoji/two emojis. The AP Stylebook has ruled in favor of emojis.
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Source: Vocabulary

A Bunch of Comments

The review post about “there is” and “there are” triggered so many comments about the word bunch that I decided to give the word a post of its own.

Here’s the sentence that provoked the discussion:

In his arms there are a whole bunch of corn husks.

Some readers defended the plural verb, suggesting that speakers often use bunch to mean many.

I suppose that when bunch is used figuratively to mean “a group of people,” treating it like committee or staff makes sense. Collective nouns like these may be either singular or plural, according to whether they are thought of as a unit or as a group of individuals:

The committee has approved the plans. (singular)
The committee are divided in opinion. (plural)

The staff is attending a retreat in the Catskills. (singular)
The staff are preparing their classrooms. (plural)

Our bunch is going to the races on Friday. (singular)
That bunch in Washington believe they are above the law. (plural)

Note: The plural constructions in these examples are all flagged by Word as needing singular verbs.

The earliest OED citation for bunch shows it used with the meaning “A protuberance, especially on the body of an animal.” For example, a 1398 reference to the camels of Arabia states that they have “two bunches on the back.” A character in Shakespeare’s Richard III (c.1593) refers to hunchbacked Richard as a “poisonous bunchback’d toad.”

Bunch in the sense of bundle is cited in 1505: “For thy bed, take now one bunch of straw.”

At one time, a bunch was a measurement that contained a certain quantity. For example, “a bunch of reeds” was “28 inches round.”

In modern usage, a bunch is “a collection or cluster of things of the same kind, either growing together (as a bunch of grapes), or fastened closely together in any way (as a bunch of flowers, a bunch of keys); also a portion of a dress gathered together in irregular folds.” (OED)

One reader asked to know if there is a difference between “a bunch” and “a whole bunch.”

Both mean “a lot of.” “A whole bunch” is an intensification of “a bunch.” Neither expression belongs in formal writing.

Just for fun, I entered the phrases “there is a bunch” and “there are a bunch” in the Google Ngram Viewer.

“There is a bunch” has the graph all to itself from 1800 to 1865, when the first “there are a bunch” makes its appearance. The plural expression remains insignificant until the 1940s, when it begins to rise in frequency. In 1984, “there are a bunch” pulls ahead of “there is a bunch” and soars ahead until 2000, which is as far as the graph goes.

There’s no knowing the context that produced the results on the Ngram chart. I mention it only as a curiosity.

Bottom line: When the collection referred to by the word bunch is made up of people, a plural verb does not jar. When referring to bundles of straw, grass, grapes, cornhusks and the like, pair bunch with a singular verb.

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Source: Daily Tips


Metonymy [meh-TAHN-uh-mee] is a figure of speech that substitutes a word or phrase that stands for an object, action, institution or the like for the object itself. For example, in the phrase “surf and turf”— in the context of restaurant fare—surf is a metonymy for seafood and turf is a metonymy for beef.
In a different context, the word turf is a common metonymy for the institution of thoroughbred horseracing:
One of the most famous jockeys in the history of the turf a century ago was Sam Chipney, who was “jockey for life” to the Prince of Wales, at a salary of $1,000, and retired from the turf with his royal master in 1791. Home and Country, Volume 9, Monthly Illustrator Publishing Company, 1894.
Here are some more examples of metonymy from various sources:
Tories were American colonists who remained loyal to the Crown during the American Revolutionary War.
Crown = “the British government.”
Suits stars Gabriel Macht as Harvey Specter and Patrick J. Adams as Mike Ross—lawyers at a high-powered New York law firm. (Suits is the title of a television series.)
Suit = an authority figure such as a lawyer or FBI agent.
Ready for another cup?
cup = a cup or mug filled with coffee
The pen is mightier than the sword.
pen = written form of persuasion
sword = military action
Friends, Romans, countrymen: Lend me your ears.
ears = attention
Lamb and potatoes: a dish fit for a king
dish = a meal
France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down hill, making paper money and spending it.
This quotation from A Tale of Two Cities contains more than one layer of figurative language.
France = the people of France.
France is also being personified as a woman with a sister.
sister of the shield and trident = Britannia, ergo, Britain.
A common symbol of the nation of Britain is the image of Britannia—a seated woman holding a shield and trident. The shield she holds represents military might, and the trident represents sea power. The trident is associated with the sea because it was the emblem of Poseidon, the god of the sea in Greek mythology.
Reading fluency requires background knowledge that enables readers to interpret the use of metonymy and other figurative language.
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Source: Vocabulary

Disruptive and Disruptor

Until recently, the words disrupt, disruptive, disruption, and disruptor were negative words used to describe actions detrimental to perceived social order. For example:
Man in Elbow Room Disruption Fights Police, Damages Cruiser
Twelve protesters disrupted a speech by Condoleeza Rice at Norwich University in Vermont.
Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi has announced the arrest of several “election disruptors” in Tehran.
Ideally, chronically disruptive students should be placed in high-quality alternative education settings where they can receive long-term, intensive interventions
In the realm of science fiction, a disruptor is a weapon that can destroy a human being in a very unpleasant manner by disrupting cellular structure.
Now, however, thanks to Clayton Christensen, a consultant and an entrepreneur whose 1992 Harvard DBA dissertation describes an academic theory of “disruptive innovation,” the nouns disruption and disruptor have taken on a positive connotation, at least for some denizens of Silicon Valley:
Nowadays every corporate executive wants to disrupt; the word has become a mark of forward-thinking decisiveness—though it is sometimes attached to strategies that are more about cost-cutting than game-changing. And in Silicon Valley, belief in disruption has taken on a near religious tinge. All that disrupts is good; all that stands in disruption’s way (such as, say, San Francisco taxi companies or metropolitan daily newspapers) deserves to perish. –Justin Fox, “The Disruption Myth,” The Atlantic, October 2014.
In this context, disruption refers to the phenomenon of old technology being upstaged by newer technology. This new disruption names a situation in which a company that was the leader in a certain field finds itself losing money because another company, with newer technology, takes the lead away from them. An example given in the Atlantic article is what happened “when electronic cash registers went from 10 percent of the market in 1972 to 90 percent just four years later,” causing the National Cash Register Company to experience big losses.
Six years before Christensen’s dissertation, Dick Foster described the same phenomenon in conventional language in a book called Innovation: The Attacker’s Advantage.
In Business-speak, disruption is a new word for innovation. Innovators have become disruptors.
Spelling note: Both OED and M-W show the spelling disruptor as “an alternative spelling” of disrupter, but the -or ending seems to be more common. A Google search of “disrupter” returns about 429,000 hits to 1,020,000 for “disruptor.” The Ngram Viewer shows disrupter ahead until 1995, when disruptor pulls ahead.
For those readers looking for a synonym for innovation that doesn’t convey the negativity of disruption, here are some possibilities:
new measures
new methods
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Source: Vocabulary

25 French Food-related Terms in English

Note: The pronunciation of these terms varies according to how familiar the speaker is with French. Usually, getting close is good enough. I’ve included pronunciation for six terms that may be especially tricky for some English speakers.
1. à la carte
Food items that can be ordered individually and not as part of a set meal are ordered à la carte. The French word carte means card or menu. For example, a true à la carte menu would list each item separately, with individual prices: chicken legs, $4; broccoli, $2; rice, $1.50, and so on.
2. à la mode
This French expression means “according to the fashion” and can be applied to clothing, furniture, dances, or anything that goes in and out of style. In US usage, the term is applied as a post-modifier to desserts. It usually means “with ice cream,” as in “pie à la mode.”
3. apéritif
An apéritif is an alcoholic drink, taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite.
4. au jus  
Chiefly US, au jus is used as a post-modifier to indicate that a dish, usually meat, has been prepared or served in a gravy containing its own juices.
5. au gratin
A dish prepared au gratin has been sprinkled with breadcrumbs or grated cheese browned in the oven or under the grill. The French verb gratiner means “to brown.”
6. baguette
A long, thin loaf of French bread.
7. bon appétit
A salutation before eating.
8. café au lait [ka-fay oh lay]
Coffee taken with milk.
9. cordon bleu  
Literally, “blue ribbon,” the expression reflects the sense of “first class.” In culinary usage, “a cordon blue” is “a first-class cook.”
10. crème brûlée
A cream topped with caramelized sugar, served as dessert.
11. cuisine
The ordinary word for kitchen in French, cuisine is also used to describe a manner or style of food preparation.
12. en brochette
A brochette is a skewer. En brochette refers to food cooked, and sometimes served, on brochettes, or skewers, like shish kebab. Food served en brochette is generally grilled. 
13. maître d’hôtel  
Maître is French for master. The maître d’hôtel is the host or manager of the “front” of a formal restaurant, the part that serves the customers. British speakers shorten the phrase to maître, but American speakers refer to this person as the maître d. The responsibilities of a maître d’hôtel generally include supervising the wait staff, taking reservations, and welcoming guests.
14. omelette (US omelet)
A dish traditionally made of beaten eggs fried in a pan and folded over. Sometimes other ingredients are added to the egg mixture.
15. petit four
A small fancy cake, biscuit, or sweet, usually served with coffee after a meal. The literal meaning is “little oven.”
16. plat du jour
Literally, “plate of the day, the plat du jour is a dish prepared in addition to the usual menu, available only on that day.
17. pot-au-feu
The literal meaning is “pot on the fire.” It can refer to a large traditional French cooking pot or to something cooked in one, usually a thick soup of meat and vegetables.
18. prix fixe [pree-feex]
A prix fixe meal typically includes several courses, but, unlike à la carte pricing, prix fixe indicates that all the courses are included under one “fixed price
19. roux  [roo]
A mixture of fat and flour heated together and used in making sauces and soups. In the United States, a spicy roux is a staple of Cajun cooking in New Orleans.
20. sauté  
The French verb sauter means “to jump.” Vegetables that are sautéed are fried in a pan with a little butter over a high heat, while being tossed from time to time.
21. sommelier [so-mel-yay]
A sommelier is a wine waiter or wine steward.
22. soupçon  [soup-sohn]
Soupçon is French for suspicion. In cooking, a soupçon is a very small quantity or slight trace of something, “a pinch.”
23. soupe du jour
Like the plat du jour, the soupe du jour (“soup of the day”) is the advertised specialty on a given day.
24. vinaigrette
A vinaigrette is a dressing of oil and wine vinegar, sometimes with herbs used with salads and cold vegetables
25. pièce de résistance [pee-es duh ray-seez-tahnce]
In general usage, the phrase may refer to the prize item in a collection. For example, “The museum’s pièce de résistance is an exact reproduction of an American eighteenth century carpenter’s tiger maple chest.” In reference to food, the pièce de résistance is the main or most difficult-to-resist part of a meal.
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Source: Vocabulary

Internet Initialisms

Although I’ve adopted a few initialisms such as BTW, LOL, and IMHO in my own informal writing, I’m mostly ignorant of the alphabet soup current on Twitter and other social media sites.
When a reader recently introduced me to the combination DRTL, I realized that this new language represents not just a kind of shorthand, but also a new philosophy of written language. This particular construct, DRTL, seems to me to symbolize the new philosophy:
DRTL = Didn’t Read, Too Long.
Strings of commonly understood letter combinations such as FYI (For your information), TGIF (Thank God it’s Friday), and ASAP (As soon as possible) pre-date the Internet, of course, but they never occurred in the profusion that exists now. Readers who share my lack of currency in Abbreviation-Speak may find the following list useful.
AFAIK: As far as I know
AIUI: As I understand it
BTDT: Been there, Done that
BTW: By the way
F2F: Face to face
FOAF: Friend of a friend
FWIW: For What it’s worth
GAL: Get a life
GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out
HTH: Hope that helps
IANAL: I am not a lawyer
ICYMI: In case you missed it
IIRC: If I recall correctly
IMHO: In my humble opinion
IMO: In my opinion
IRL: In real life
ISTM: It seems to me
JK (also J/K) Just kidding
LOL: Laughing out loud
OMG: Oh, My God
OTOH: On the other hand
OTT: Over the top
STW: Search the Web
TIL: Today I learned
TMI Too much information
TTYL: Talk to you later
WYSIWYG: What you see is what you get
Of course this list is a mere scratching of the surface. And I’ve deliberately left out the ones that contain a gratuitous F. Nevertheless, even a short list may help a few codgers navigate Twitter with a little more comprehension. HTH.
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Source: Vocabulary


The lovely word cryptid came to my attention in reference to the ivory-billed woodpecker. One of these birds, long believed to be extinct, was sighted in eastern Arkansas in 2004. As no subsequent sightings have been reported, the survival of the species is still disputed.
Cryptid is of recent coinage, suggested in 1983 by J. E. Wall in a publication of the International Society of Cryptozoology, as a word “to replace sensational and often misleading terms like monster.”
Note: The Google Ngram Viewer shows use of cryptid as early as 1963, but the appearance in the ISC newsletter is most likely the cause of the word’s meteoric rise from 1990 to the present.
Cryptozoology may be a pseudoscience, but the word cryptid is a useful addition to the English vocabulary, joining other English words that derive from Greek kryptos, “hidden”:
crypt (1583)
An underground cell, chamber, or vault; especially, one used as a burial place and typically lying beneath a church.
cryptogram (1827)
A piece of cryptographic writing; anything written in code or cipher.
cryptology (1844)
The science, study, or practice of encrypting and decrypting information.
cryptonym (1862) 
A pseudonym or code name; esp. one given to a spy or to a clandestine operation.
crypsis (1956) Cryptic coloration or behavior that enables an animal to conceal its presence.
Cryptozoology (1968)
The study of unknown, legendary, or extinct animals whose existence or survival to the present day is disputed or unsubstantiated.
Cryptids more sensational than the ivory-billed woodpecker include the following:
Abominable Snowman
Big Foot
Fouke Monster
Kelpie Water horse
Loch Ness monster
Sea serpents
Sewer alligators
For a lengthy list of cryptids, see the Wikipedia article.
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Source: Vocabulary

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