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Is there a word or concept that describes words lacking simple (e.g. less pretentious, less technical, less subjugating) synonyms, or more generally words without single-word synonyms. I'm looking for lists of words that defy "plain-English" translation, in an effort to identify "essential" vocabulary. I'm thinking of the vocabulary equivalents of least-common denominators.

  • Such words would have remarkably specific, if not unique meanings, so maybe "remarkably specific/unique descriptors." – Papa Poule Nov 22 '14 at 18:00
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    I don't know that this term is used for this purpose, but the word "irreducible" comes to mind. Also, fractions have "simplest forms," so you borrow that term. – Yoav Kallus Nov 22 '14 at 18:09
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    asynonymous is used occasionally, sometimes with meaning "having no synonyms" (in genetics articles), and sometimes with meaning "not synonymous" (in logic articles) – James Waldby - jwpat7 Nov 24 '14 at 7:06
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    Another word that comes to mind is primitives. It would probably help if you gave examples of the words that you're asking about. Are you thinking of words like the and be? – Barmar Nov 24 '14 at 21:19
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    I think he means words like demonstrable, which is difficult to replace with anything less grand without losing the meaning. – Carl Smith Nov 25 '14 at 1:55
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Many of such words would be quite technical, not "primitives" or least-common denominator; and would not be essential to a " basic" vocabulary. obviate, parallel, isosceles, gastroenterologist, pahoehoe, anemometer, sphygnomometer, pyroclastic, enantiomer.... These are not "irreducible", but it takes more than one word to " reduce" them. (of couse, now someone will come up with one-word synonyms just to refute my offhand examples).

I would suspect that invented languages would have a lot fewer synonyms than English, which has in many cases inherited or adapted multiple terms for the same thing from various languages.

Here's an article about Ithkuil, an invented language ostensibly much more efficient (more precise, yet more concise) than English. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/12/24/utopian-for-beginners

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I've been looking for a list of words that don't have synonyms. I've had no luck. I have however researched the idea for about two years now and the closest I have gotten to previous work on the matter was by the linguist Morris Swadesh. He is a little dated on his work. Wikipedia has an appendix of "Swadesh lists" in various languages: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Swadesh_lists

These words tend to lack synonyms in their respective languages. Words like colors or body parts. There are verbs as well though.

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