This word is of French origin and literally translated means, fly swallower. So, a person who keeps their mouth open: a silly or naive person.


Scabby, despicable. (Obsolete)

But any word meaning scabby must make a comeback!


An obsolete word for practical joking or tomfoolery.


Nesting or nest making.


put on the dog

Time for a phrase today. If it is not obsolete, it certainly must be obscure.

To put on the dog originated as college slang in the 1860s. It means to make a flashy display, by dress or putting on airs.


Here’s an interesting one. Not obsolete, but not used everyday, I imagine. Well, for most anyway. A tziganologist studies Hungarian gypsies.


An archaic word for a slovenly person.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A bad taste or smell.


This is a child that is born to a couple who are not married, but then they later marry.

[He’s soooo special!]


Ruin and obscurity.

Which I’m in danger of falling into. Sorry the posts have been so sporadic. Between travel for work and the docs using me as a guinea pig, I’ve had trouble updating daily. I will continue to do the best I can and hope that you all keep checking in. Thank you to all who are sticking with me.


To be dissected.

lank sleeve

The empty sleeve of a one armed man.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


To ring the church bell.

shail about

This means to move as if one’s bones are loose in the sockets. It comes from the Belgian word schale, meaning shell. Shail about, as in moving like a ripe nut within its shell (Kacirk 2000).


This is a good one. It means to encourage and spread the use of the Flemish language.

Because it is very important, that’s why!


This is the study of sacred buildings, such a churches and temples.

This does not appear to be obsolete, just not used in everyday conversation.


This word describes a type of play with a contrived and often melodramatic plot. It also describes plays that are well-written, but have trivial or morally objectionable plots. The word is derived from the French playwright Victorian Sardou, who wrote in the later part of the 1800s. I guess he was prone to Sardoodledom.


A false memory. Perhaps a mixing of the words fumble and remember.


This is an obsolete adjective that describes when you ignore your horoscope because it is bad.

Because it’s a horror-scope!


These are the blessings and crossings that priests make with the holy water.

Not to be confused with curlicues.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Here’s an obsolete word for imposter. It comes from the Spanish word that means to swindle (estafar).


This is an icicle.

oliver’s scull

A chamber pot.


In honor of all my air travel lately. It means suitable for flying.

Two-year olds are NOT volacious. One was screaming in the back of the plane for over an hour. I thought my head would explode.


This means all of a sudden. I’m not sure if it is obsolete or not. It comes from the Latin word for leap.

I’m off to Baltimore again. Yay. I’ll try to keep up, but I can’t promise anything!


Guilt. Opposite of innocence.

Something nocent is harmful or criminal.

Sorry there have been few words going up lately. I’ve been out of town for work and will be the next couple of weeks. I’ll try to get some words up, but it becomes difficult sometimes. Please keep checking in, though!


Any frightful or loathsome creature, especially a bat.
– Kacirk 2000

I can think of plenty of ogerhunches other than bats! Some I encountered just this last week…


Wonderful and extraordinary.
– from Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


A foolish person. Also an awkward one.

I am gilly-gaupus for not quitting my job right now.


An obsolete word that means writing continuously.


An obsolete word that describes someone who tires someone else out by walking.

I surbated myself today at my job.

[That sounds a bit dirty…]


To make fuzzy with drink. From the German fusslig, which means just impaired enough with drink to speak indistinctly.

Been there, done that!

devil to pay

The phrase refers to trouble that results from one’s action. According to Mordock and Korach (2001), the origin of this phrase comes from an old English tavern that was located near the London Civil Courts; it was called The Devil. The Devil was frequented daily by lawyers; many who spent large amounts of their clients’ money. Defrauded clients would complain that their money had gone “for the Devil to pay”. The phrase gone to the devil also comes from this bar. When the clients would call at their lawyers’ office, they were told that the lawyer had “gone to The Devil”.

An internet search suggests a nautical origin for the phrase. Apparently, the devil is the seam inside the ship where the hull meets the deck. To pay a seam is to fill it with rope and seal with pitch. To seal, or pay, the devil seam was a very difficult task.

I kind of like the first explanation, but who knows which one is right.


Here’s a rare word meaning having the feet joined or put close together.
[McKean 2003]

I’m going to be doing quite a bit of traveling in the next couple weeks for work. I’m going to try to keep up with the blog, but sometimes is gets hard being out of town. This job stuff really gets in the way of my fun!


Heh. This one is so appropriate to how I feel today.

Mawmsey means sleepy, or stupid from lack of sleep or drinking too much.

Oh, yes, they both apply today.


In honor of my bronchitis, a rare word that means full of phlegm or mucus. Gleimousness means stickiness. Engleimous means something is slimy AND venomous.

I might use engleimous to describe the place I worked at this past week. Ew.

hit the hay

WHEW!! I’ve had a week. I was working out of town and in the last 8 days, I’ve worked about 120 hours. Sorry to my regulars, but I just didn’t have the energy or time to post each evening. So, to ease us back into it, I’ll do a phrase origin today.

You may think that hit the hay, meaning of course, to go to sleep, came from farmers. Not so. In the olden days, sailors supplied their own bedding, canvas covers stuffed with hay. The bedding was referred to as a hay, so when the sailor was off to bed, he would say he was going to hit the hay.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pertaining to buffoons.

Like me!!


A love of youthful pleasure.

I love colt’s tooth!!!


An ancient trombone-like instrument.

Who knew?


A rare word that means beardless.


To snuggle.


It’s a toy store.

dog’s nose

A mixture of ale and gin enjoyed by Londoners in the 19th century.

I always thought dog’s nose was that smear left on the car window when my doggy smooshed her nose against the glass.


Fear of mankind.

I guess that’s kind of the opposite of philanthropy.


Here’s a rare word for the process of becoming fat. From the Latin, pinquis, meaning fat. If you pinguefy something, you saturate it with oil, make it greasy.


The origin of this magician’s word is from the Hebrew, avrei kadaber, meaning I Will create as I speak.


The pomposity and stupidity of government officials and other authority figures.

Apparently, it comes from the character Mr. Bumble who was the parish beadle in Oliver Twist.


A disturbance, a row.

There was quite a conbobberation downtown near the baseball stadium yesterday afternoon. I was walking to my car after work and a man was waving his arms and yelling at a woman seated at a vendor’s table on the street. He was throwing the F-bomb and she was admonishing him to stop being a shithead. I have no idea what they were fighting about, but it didn’t seem to be a big business draw. I had to laugh, though, as I passed the fighters and the table, the second vendor at the table yelled out at me, “PEANUTS! PISTACHIOS! CANDY!”

Like I’m going to suddenly stop and go back…OOO, candy! Ignore the man yelling the F-word. Buy some peanuts!


Another fun one…

It means used up.


I love the sound of this one.

It means to rumple or crease.


Obsolete word meaning scornful, mocking.

jingle brains

A wild, thoughtless, rattling fellow.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

The Dictionary of Thieving Slang (1721), says a jingle brains is “maggot-pated fellow.”

Maggot-pated is an obsolete expression meaning silly.

quack oneself

A bit of slang today. It means to be a hypochondriac.

My new job has been super busy, so sorry the posts haven’t been regular.

king’s weather

This is what you call the vapors that you can sometimes see shimmering off the ground on a warm day.

No king’s weather here in Cleveburg today. More like King Neptune’s weather!


Strawberries were originally called strewberries because the berries appeared strewn among the leaves of the plant. The name was changed through mispronunciation.

Did you know that strawberries are not berries? They are classified as an aggregate fruit – a fleshy fruit receptacle covered on the surface with single-seeded fruits. Berries are fruits with a soft ovary wall and a pit inside, such as blueberries or cranberries.


A ventriloquist.

From Greek en meaning in, gaster meaning belly, and muthos meaning speech.


Monday, April 28, 2008

An obscure card game from the 19th century.

A popular sea-game with cards, wherein the loser is beaten over the palms of the hands with a handkerchief tightly twisted like a rope. Very popular with horny-fisted sailors.
– Sailor’s Word-book by Admiral William Smyth (1865)



A blend of jokes and serious matter; part silly and part serious.

beau trap

A loose stone in a pavement, under which water lodges, and on being trod upon, squirts it up, to the great damage of white stockings; also a sharper neatly dressed, lying in wait for raw country squires, or ignorant fops.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

to yam

To eat or stuff heartily.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


This will make you think twice while eating your cereal. Kellogg is one of those names that also described an occupation, in this case, a pork butcher. It comes from the Old English kullen meaning to kill, plus hog.

That’s gggggggggggggrrrrreat!

smelling of the inkhorn

An inkhorn was an old word for an inkwell, because the early ones were made of cow’s horn. Formal, unimaginative writing was said to smell of the inkhorn because the words needed too much ink to write them.

three square meals

This expression comes from the old seafaring days of the 18th century. The sailors used to eat their meals off of square wooden plates.

oil of gladness

I will anoint you with the oil of gladness; ironically spoken for, I will beat you.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


Containing salt.

I’m supposed to be lowering my sodium intake. I’m finding that our foods are much too saliferous.


No, it is not to make something funky! It is to run away in fear.


A pet name.

[Kind of a mouthful for a pet name if you ask me…]


Someone who lives in the past.

here’s a Hawaiian riddle

Ku’u punawai kau i ka lewa. The answer is niu.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, that’s a good one!!

[Translation: My spring of water high up in the clouds. The answer is a coconut.]

haberdasher of pronouns

A schoolmaster, or usher.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

An usher??


When pouring liquid from one container to another and your hand is shaking so you spill the liquid…that’s a jirble.

Not the cute little furry critter…that’s a gerbil.

owl in an ivy bush

He looks like an owl in an ivy bush; frequently said of a person with a large frizzled wig, or a woman whose hair is dressed a-la-blowze.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


A lean or long person or thing. Obsolete.


To keep repeating the same thing needlessly.

To keep repeating the same thing needlessly.

To keep repeating the same thing needlessly.

To keep…oh, now I’m just being silly!

break-teeth words

Hard words that are difficult to pronounce.

Broke da mouth!


Here’s an obsolete word meaning careless or negligent.


To bury.

I guess that explains exhume, eh? So, what is hume…on the surface?


Transparent in water.

Like me!!


A bedbug.


Monday, March 31, 2008

This is a painter who paints unpleasant or sordid subjects.

[That’s the kind of painter I would be. Good thing I hate painting.]


Bashful or modest.

duke of limbs

A tall, awkward, ill-made fellow.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


An obsolete word for unluckiness.

go whole hog

A phrase origin today, I think.

As we all know, to go whole hog is to do something all the way, to the limit.

According to Common Phrases (Mordach & Korach 2001), this phrase originated with one of Muhammad’s sermons. In the sermon, he forbade his followers to eat one part of the hog, but he never specified which part not to eat. His followers were hungry, but also wanted to follow the teachings of Muhammad. So they cut up the hog into lots of parts and each person ate one. No single person ate the whole hog, but the whole hog was eaten.


To be chilled, numb from cold.

I’m feeling it right now!


A scolding; tedious criticism.


This is a woman who is dressed gaudily.


The sound a worm makes as it eats through the wood of your house.

mahometan gruel

Coffee: because formerly used chiefly by the Turks.
-Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


Here’s a rare word that means swallowing or pretending to swallow knives.


half seas over

Almost drunk.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

I wish.


Native of Arkansas.


An obsolete word for lazily.


A pain in the head. Apparently, they used to think it was caused by a worm bite. They also used to think that acting unpredictably and impulsively was caused by being bitten by maggots. Therefore, megrim can also mean to act capriciously.


To shake, towzle, or tumble about.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

And now I’m going out of town for about a week. I’ll still try to post. My new job is jerrycummumbling me.


To purse the lips.


An endangered word for the branches of a tree.

This is in honor of the huge limb that broke off our pine tree in our ice/slush storm about a week ago. Po’ ting.


An endangered word meaning hanging by a thread.

Very appropriate for what’s been going on lately.


Sorry, more health issues have kept me away. Hopefully we’ll be back to normal soon. Stay tuned.

Today’s word is not obsolete, it comes out of a question my brother asked me today. Is March the only month with ides.

Ides is the term for the 15th day of March, May, July, or October or the 13th day of any other month in the ancient Roman calendar.

The Ides of March are famous, of course, for being the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated. The phrase Ides of March has come to mean impending doom.


An endangered word meaning mental distress.

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted a word in awhile. I’ve been out of commission with some health issues and then I just started a new job! I hope that I can soon get back into my routine.

Today’s word is appropriate for what’s been happening lately.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lacking intelligence and common sense.



It almost seems like all you have to do is add ous to the end of a word to make it mean great or fantastic. Like splendiferous, for example.

to bam

To impose on any one by a falsity; also to jeer or make fun of any one.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

to knuckle one’s wipe

To steal someone’s handkerchief.

to hunt a tavern fox

To be drunk.

Let’s all go fox hunting later.


To heat over a fire for a length of time, but not to a boil.


To be out of one’s senses.


To be lazy and careless.

I feel all slistery right now.






Over-dressed or overly accessorized.


A lie. It comes from Ireland and the words potsheen or poteen meaning whiskey. A double potsheen twang is a really huge lie.


In time past. Opposite of nowadays.


Fear of supernatural powers.

Because they are scaaaary!


Proud, arrogant. From the Old French haut, meaning high.

grannum’s gold

Hoarded money: supposed to have belonged to the grandmother of the possessor.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

master of the rolls

A baker.


Going in circles, to make a circuit.


Having hairy buttocks.

You heard me!


A person who goes everywhere.

dog in a doublet

A daring, resolute fellow. In Germany and Flanders the boldest dogs used to hunt the boar, having a kind of buff doublet buttoned on their bodies.
Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


This is the feeling of being brave because you’re drunk.

That never happens!


Things that should not be mentioned.


Thursday, January 31, 2008
cow handed



As slow as a tortoise.

Like my computer…or my “high speed” dsl connection.


Overly obsequious, fawning.




Cheese poisoning. Or poisoning by any bad milk product.

I like saying cheese poisoning. It sounds more absurd that way.


Quarrelsome, short-tempered, nattlesome.


To consider, give careful thought to something.


To make someone shirty is to make them extremely angry. Also, to get someone’s shirt out.

break a leg

Most people know that this phrase is used by theatrical types to wish other performers good luck. Apparently, it is bad luck to actually say “good luck”. Those in the theater have their superstitions to uphold.

The origin of this phrase is not precisely known. The first appearance found in print of the theatrical application was in late 1948. The phrase did appear in print about 11 years prior, but had a different meaning. In this earlier citation, it meant to make a strenuous effort. In 1670, the meaning (now obsolete) was to give birth to a bastard.

There are several theories of the origin of the current meaning of the phrase, but one that seems to be favored. In German, there is phrase hals und beinbruch, which dates back to WWII and means break your neck and your leg. There is speculation that this is actually a corruption of a Hebrew phrase hatzlakha u-brakha, which means success and blessing.

Apparently, German and Yiddish were widely used among the Jewish theater community in America. It is conceivable that this phrase then migrated into English from the German and Hebrew.

By the way, the Italians also have a phrase that wishes good luck by wishing bad luck. In bocca al lupo means into the mouth of a wolf. Wow. They don’t mess around!


Mastery of languages.

[Disclaimer: memorization of this blog will not make you linguipotent.]


A water drinker.

Wouldn’t that be every living thing?


The art of writing in the dark (McKean 2003).



To prance like a goat.

There’s a word you might need every day!


To reject strongly.




This is the space between the forefinger and the thumb.

And here I thought it was just that webby thing.


You’ve heard of ambidextrous? Being equally coordinated with both right and left hands. Well, ambisinister is being clumsy with both hands.

as rare as rocking horse shit

Not obsolete, but I liked it so much, I thought it must be shared. This is a British expression meaning nonexistent.


Ask frequently.

Are we there yet?


Obsolete adjective for lazy.


Secret, private, or underhanded.


A second course of desserts after dinner.

Probably comes rear (after) and banquet.


A person who is a guide for souls; either for souls of the living, or to guide souls to the place of the dead.



This is appropriate for today. The new year brought us about 5″ of snow and more expected tonight. I hope Little Frankenstein, our ancient toggled-together snowblower, will be able to handle it tomorrow.


Monday, December 31, 2007

To stagger or stumble.

Happy New Year everybody. Be careful you don’t titubate too much tonight!


Fear of clowns.

Thanks to Friend Anne for my Christmas gift, The Pop-up Book of Phobias. No lie! Truly hilarious! (The arachnophobia page kinda creeps me out, though.)


A whispering sound.


Obsolete word for the sulks.


This obsolete words means agreeably persuasive.


A 12th century word that started out as an old English toast to one’s health. It comes from the old Norse ves heill, to be well.

Wassail is also a holiday drink made with wine, beer or cider, sugar and spices, and often baked apples. It can also mean riotous drinking.

Here I come a’wassailing!!! Merry Christmas, everybody!


Given to stealing.

cackling farts

A cackler is cant for chicken, so cackling farts are eggs!



A house made of roots.



The fear of chickens.

Would that make you chicken of chickens?


Not able to cry.


Stale urine. They used to preserve it in a tank, then mix it with lime and use it on the wheat before sowing so that the birds won’t pick up the seeds.

Sheesh. I wouldn’t pick up the seeds, either.


A defender or champion.

tit for tat

This expression meaning to return action for action, such as an insult for an insult, dates back to the 16th century. An obsolete meaning for the word tit was a tug or jerk. Tat is apparently a variation on the word tap. The expression tip for tap goes back a century further than the current wording.


Here’s one for the season. It means related to the mistletoe family.

scandal broth

This is an old name for tea. Also, chatter broth. This is in reference to tea as the beverage of choice while the woman folk sat around and gossiped.


Obsolete word for to laugh loudly.

I’m kenching right now!


To swear to something, take an oath. Obsolete.

dog’s soup

Rain water.

– from Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


An old word for armpit.


A dangling curl of hair.


An ancient way of sealing a deal. When 2 folks entered into a bargain, they would confirm by licking the ball of one thumb and then joining them together. It was considered binding.

I think I prefer to “shake on it”.


This is a warning that old timey folks used to holler when they tossed their dirty water and other foul liquid slop out the upper windows. [Apparently, it was too much trouble to carry everything downstairs.]

Legend has it that King Phillipe Auguste of France got nailed by the nasty liquid from a chamber pot while walking through Paris. He enacted a regulation for all upstairs residents to yell out the warning “gare a l’eau!”, which means “look out for the water!”, before dumping any liquids. The Scots took the phrase as their own and anglicized it to gardyloo!

made up words

This Get Fuzzy cartoon cracked me up the other day and I wanted to share it with those that might not have seen it. Just something a little different.


Something that is easily recognized.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

To wear yourself out in your effort to come up with a new idea.

I’m all limbecked today from finding the word of the day. Either that, or the beer I had is affecting me. Naaaaaahh.


A time for play, or rude and rough-housing play.

Sounds like time for scopperloit!


This is a slang word for great, splendid, magnificent.

Have a magnolious day!!


Uncertain, doubtful, skittish.

At first, I thought it said bloggish…but I was wrong.


Ill-treated, as by a step-mother. From the Belgian knarren, to snarl. (From The Word Museum, Kacirk 2000)


In honor of Thanksgiving, an obsolete meaning for the word grate meaning pleasing. It is the root for the word grateful .

I hope that everyone had a nice Thanksgiving holiday. Sorry about no words for a few, but I was busy with family and repairing leaky faucets and broken down dryers. Woohoo!


Dog-faced or dog-headed.

This one is for CC, my niece’s dog. She is very cynocephalous.


A strange or absurd person or thing.

Takes one to know one!



sheep’s eye

To cast a sheep’s eye is to look amorously at one’s lover.

How romantic!


Here’s a Scots word for built up.


This is French for monkey trick. Singerie is a style of decorative art that used monkeys dressed in fashionable clothing or imitating human behavior. It originated with designer Jean Berain in 18th century France.

Lancelot Link explained!!!


To separate real coins from counterfeit coins. Shroffage is the commission charged for the separating.

I felt like I was shroffing when I changed my Euros back into US dollars. Talk about getting ripped off. The dollar is tanking big time.

jibber the kibber

A method of deceiving seamen, by fixing a candle and lanthorn round the neck of a horse, one of whose fore feet is tied up; this at night has the appearance of a ship’s light. Ships bearing towards it, run on shore, and being wrecked, are plundered by the inhabitants. This diabolical device is, it is said, practised by the inhabitants of our western coasts.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


The obsolete definition of this word is a small hook or hooked instrument. Another definition is a highly individual and usually eccentric opinion or preference. To be crotchety is to be given to crotchets, that is, subject to whims, crankiness, and ill-temper [Merriam-Webster Dictionary].

Today’s word is dedicated to the crotchety old man at the elderly housing facility who verbally abused us while we were trying to wax the floors. He actually called my co-worker a bitch when we told him he couldn’t toddle over the wet wax stripper with his walker. Here’s to you, you grumpy old bastard.


An archaic word for spitting.

can’t hold a candle to him/her

Before gas and electric lighting, indoor illumination for theaters and other entertainment venues was supplied by large candles or torches held by menial workers. Young boys were also hired to walk in front of their employers holding a torch or candle to light the way as they walked through the streets at night. Holding the candle did not require a lot of skill, and those who held these jobs were considered inferior. The job was often given to young boys or otherwise unemployable men unable to do much else. Therefore, if someone was thought to be unfit to even hold a candle, he must be totally incompetent.


The fear of long words.



A skull shaped like a boat, long and narrow. It comes from the Greek words boat (kymbe) and head (kephale).

in the mebby-scales

To waver between two opinions.

church, chapel, cathedral, basilica

I have returned from my travels! Had a great time, but it is good to be home.

During my travels, I visited many churches in Spain and Italy. This gave rise to the question, what is the difference between a church, a chapel, a cathedral, and a basilica? I saw them all!

Church seems to be the more general term encompassing the other terms and meaning a building for divine worship.

A chapel is another broad term that can apply to a section within a larger church or to small buildings. The word is associated with the housing of relics. It comes from the story of St. Martin of Tour, when he split his military cloak (cappa) and gave half to a beggar at the gate of Amiens. The other half he kept and used as a cape (capella). The cape was preserved as a relic and was toted around by the Frankish kings as they went to war. The tent where it was kept was referred to as the capella and masses were held here by the military chaplains (capellani). When the relic was moved, the place where it was housed and masses held would become the capella. Eventually, places where services were held became known as capella, chapelle, chapel. [Source: newadvent.org]

The terms cathedral and basilica have both ecclesiastical and architectural differences. A cathedral serves as the bishop’s seat and is the chief church of the diocese. In Latin, cathedra means throne or seat, the symbol of authority. Architecturally, a cathedral may be one the grandest in the diocese, but not necessarily the largest. They are more modest in size than a basilica.

A basilica is a large and important church with canonical status (due to its history) and special ceremonial rites given by the Pope. There are major basilicas and minor basilicas. A major basilica has a “holy door”, a papal throne, and a papal altar at which only those given permission by the pope may say Mass. St. Peter’s Basilica [I was there!!] in Vatican City is one of the only 4 major basilicas, all in Rome. All other basilicas are minor ones.

In architecture, basilicas were large roofed structures used for transacting business and deciding legal matters. These buildings usually had interior colonnades that divided the space into aisles and arcades on one or both sides, with an apse on one end (sometimes both ends) where the magistrates would sit on a raised dais.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

To be lazy, move slowly and sluggishly.

Hey, I’m going out of town again for about 10 days. I’m going to try to put up a word tomorrow before I go. And then I’ll see y’all again in November. That’s if I’m not being all drumbly.


Swampy and slimy. It is from the Latin meaning full of moisture.


A shape made completely of chili…NO!

It is actually a figure with one thousand equal sides.


The worst pig in the litter.

Poor little nurk…


Ridiculous notions.


This is a curious person who is always looking for news. The Latin translates to “What now?”


Here’s an obsolete word for a stray animal.

Judas hole

This is a small hole cut in a door so you can peek into a room without being seen.


A rather inelegant-sounding obsolete word meaning elegant and graceful.


A night owl, someone who stays up late.


Strangers; people from outside your neighborhood.


This is not an obsolete word. It is an expression of indifference and lack of enthusiasm made popular by the Simpsons.

marriage music

The squalling and crying of children.
Francis Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

wear soup and fish

At big fancy dinners, soup and fish were usually served before the main course. One must be appropriately dressed for such formal dinners. For the men, this meant tuxedos or other fancy suit. So, wearing such fancy dress became known as wearing soup and fish.


Something you can’t verify the presence of because of no physical form, like a ghost.



Deceit, cheating.


To bustle about, be active.

[Today was not a frooncy day.]


An obsolete word meaning to squeak like a rat.

Because apparently it was too hard to say, “He squeaks like a rat.” It was so much easier to say, “He desticates.” Sounds dirty!

over empty

You guessed it…you made it too empty!!


People raised in the same neighborhood are gutterblood.

[Yo, T! You and me!]


Here’s an obsolete word meaning brought into a narrow room. [Reminds me of work today, trying to move those shelving units.]

At the root is the obsolete verb coarct, which means restricted.

flat out like a lizard drinking

Well, I’m baaaack!

In honor of my recent trip to Oz, here’s a phrase to describe why I didn’t get right back into my word of the day. I’ve been very busy, or as they say in Australia, flat out like a lizard drinking.


Monday, September 10, 2007

To sleep very heavily.

This is what I hope to do on my flight to Australia tomorrow. I’m going down under for a couple weeks, so The Obsolete Word will be on a short hiatus.

If I come across some really good Aussie vocabulary, and I find a computer, I may put up a post. Otherwise, I’ll be back to regular posts in about 12 days. Aloha!


An obsolete word meaning to meddle in someone else’s business.


Here’s a rare word meaning to wander.




Someone who’s growth has been stunted.

oyster part

This is a bit part for an actor where they only appear or speak once. Like an oyster that only opens once.


No, these are not tiny graphics indicating levels of stupidity. An idioticon is a regional dictionary.


An obsolete term used to describe fruit and spices as being free of bruises or not pounded.


Friday, August 31, 2007
grammar folk

Someone who is educated.


This is the imitation of a snorting noise.


An obsolete word meaning very pleasant.


This is someone who repeats the same thing for no reason. It comes from the Greek word for stammerer.


This is a note in the margin.

called on the carpet

This expression meaning to be scolded or reprimanded, comes from the late 19th century. Executives of big businesses decked out their offices with extravagant furnishings in order to impress. One such item was a nice, thick carpet. When an employee was called into the boss’ office, it was usually to be criticized for something. The employee would notice the fine, thick carpet, especially if he was hanging his head in shame. The expression to be called on the carpet developed from this dreaded summons.

olcsó húsnak híg a leve

This is a Hungarian saying meaning cheap meat produces thin gravy.

So true; so true.


Not an obsolete word, but interesting. It is a small triangular bone in the septum between the nostrils in humans and other vertebrates. It comes from the Latin word for plowshare because of its resemblance to such.


This is the crust that is formed where one loaf of bread baking in the oven touches the one next to it.




To walk awkwardly.

This is what the piggy does when his pizzle gets boiled. Wouldn’t you?


An ointment made from lard boiled from a pig’s pizzle. A pizzle is the male pig’s member.



This is to make something obtuse, dull or blunt.

married all over

This old phrase was used to describe women who let their physical appearance go after getting married.


This one is in honor of the guy I saw at the college library where I was working today. He was walking through the hallway flipping an unshucked ear of corn in the air. Hey, don’t ask me…

An iconomicar is someone who writes about agriculture.


This is an old name for the ant.

Apparently, an ant hill smells like urine and this is how they were named. Personally, I’ve never noticed that ant hills smell like urine.

Good to know.


Bad luck.


This means to wander through the world.


Hey, Nit, this one’s for you.

This is an obsolete word meaning to be full of small air bubbles. Apparently, it was used to describe liquids such as wine.


Surprised, flummoxed, discombobulated.


This means to use the letter “l” too frequently in writing and speaking.



Here’s an obsolete word that means “that which brings monsters or strange sights” (McKean 2003).

An ostent is an omen, sign, or portent. This is from the Latin ostento or ostendo meaning to show, reveal, declare, to make clear.


This is foolish and silly behavior.


Cramping that results from crouching too long.

taken aback

This phrase meaning to be shocked or completely surprised, dates back to the days of sailing ships. There was a maneuver that was used in case of emergency, such as the sudden appearance of a reef or rocks. It entailed bringing the ship to a quick stop or even reversing direction by turning the sails backward. The sailors called the maneuver taking aback.


Here’s an oldie and a goodie!

This is a stick used by a knocker-up. It was a long, flexible rod with buttons on the end. The knocker-up used the stick to tap on bedroom windows to wake up (knock up) workers so that they wouldn’t be late for a shift and get fined. This task was also known as upknocking.


Obsolete word for very angry and displeased.

Dealing with insurance companies makes me all thrunched.


This is a good word to describe your neighbor that crashes into your car while backing out of their driveway and then doesn’t tell you for half the day. It means careless and indifferent.


This is a spiteful person.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


This is an obsolete word for snottiness.


This is a rare word meaning wicked.

That Maverick roller coaster sure was scelestious!


An obsolete word for very brave. It comes from the French meaning beyond brave.

You need to be oultrepreu to ride some of those roller coasters at Cedar Point. Wow.


This is a rare word meaning to make a noise like sloshing water.

It apparently has entered new urban slang with varying meanings, which I will not go into here.


This is a person who regards poetry with suspicious dislike.



An obsolete word meaning to violently shake or knock around.


Luxurious effeminate.

It comes from the name of the last king of Nineveh, Sardanapalus. The story goes that he lived in over-the-top luxury.


No, it is not the mansion where rapper 50 Cent lives.

It is a plow horse. Specifically, of a pair attached to the plow, it is the near one that walks in the unplowed part while the other walks in the furrow.

hurry up

The origin of this phrase comes from the restaurant trade. Most restaurants had the kitchen down in the basement and the dining room on the main floor. The job of the headwaiter was to keep the food moving quickly from the kitchen to the diners. The headwaiter would yell down to the kitchen, “Hurry up!”


This is a person who lives inland rather than on the coast. It comes from the Greek word for mainland.


One of many words for the humble hedgehog. Cirogrille, used by medieval writers; echinus, the Latin; furze-pig; hotchi withcu, in Gypsy; hurcheon; irchepil; irchon; tiggy.


An adjective meaning destructive like an ape. From a Latin word that means four handed like an ape.


You’ll never guess what this obsolete word means. To make something purple again!

No kidding? Please excuse me while I reicetea my mug.

point blank

A word origin today, I think. As we all know, point blank means direct, straightforward, blunt; so close to a target that missing would be impossible.

Point blank comes from the French point-blanc, white spot. In the game of archery, the center of the target was marked by a white spot, the point-blanc. A shot to the point-blanc was one that was straight and true and executed with great skill.


Having large feet. This word is apparently related to the Greek legend, as related by Pliny the Elder, of the Sciapodes, dwarf-like creatures with one large foot.




An obsolete word for a kiss on the hand. It comes from the French baiser meaning to kiss and la main meaning hand.


To complain in a whiny voice.


Yet another word for a thingamajig or whatsiwhosit whatchamacallit. In Hawaii, da kine.

hiccius doccius

This was a word used by jugglers during performances like magicians use abracadabra. It came to also meaning juggler or someone who cuts corners. The phrase may be from the Latin hicce est doctus, which means this is the learned man.


Loss of the sense of taste.

Perhaps this explains why that Longhorn nearby is so popular…

nailing jelly to a tree

In honor of my little pine tree (see my other blog), here’s a little phrase. It means dealing with a very messy, and probably impossible situation.

This idiom may have originated with psychologist Jerry Willis who published the book Nailing Jelly to a Tree (1981).


Here’s an obsolete word meaning equal to the angels.


Several of you might be trying to do this today.

A pottle is a 4-pint tankard. To pottle-draught is to slam an entire pottle of liquor.


Of or related to midnight.


This is the fear of sin. Also hamartophobia.

The meaning of peccatiphobia was the trivia question at the local Caribou Coffee the other day. When the guy told me it meant the fear of sin, I jokingly replied, “Who would be afraid of that?”

He gave me a funny look and stepped away like he thought I’d be smote by lightning or wished away to a corn field or something.


Saturday, June 30, 2007

This is the enslavement of ants by ants.

Who knew?


To sell small things.


A tall, thin, unhealthy looking person.

viajou na maionese

Here’s a good foreign expression for today.

It is a Portuguese phrase meaning to live in a dream world. Literally translated, it says to travel in mayonnaise.

pig’s whisper

A stage whisper, a whisper that is meant to be heard.


This is an obsolete word meaning to shake back and forth.

Like what I will do to the guy who invented poison ivy…if I ever find him.


Pertaining to weevils.

Because, well, you really need to use a word like that every day.


[This is a good one.]

An obscure word meaning to cause a frog or toad to fly into the air. Apparently, usually in a violent manner, such as from the end of a stick.


This is an old phrase used by sailors and soldiers. It meant to fake an illness or injury.

I got a new book…

It’s called X-Treme Latin (Beard 2004). It has many useful phrases. The following you can use when someone cuts you off in traffic: Ubi didicisti gubernare currum? In fuga ab Hunnis? Translation: Where did you learn to drive? Fleeing from the Huns?

Or this one for the Trekkers out there: Resistere irritum est. Praeparate vos ad translationem. Translation (as if it was necessary): Resistance is futile. Prepare to be assimilated.


This is a person who is useless and just takes up space.

A certain celebrity inmate comes to mind. OH! That was just mean. How can I live with myself?


Here’s a rare word for a booming roar. To rimbomb means to echo or resound.

to make causey-webs

To neglect one’s work and be idle in the streets.

I will spend the day tomorrow making causey-webs.


This is an obsolete word meaning to try to suppress one’s laughter.

Must come from the sound of that snort through the nose.


Who hasn’t done this to their sibling in the back seat while on a road trip??

This is an Indonesian word meaning to tease someone by lightly touching them with one finger.

Stop touching me!!!


This is the opening in a wall that allowed for defense against attackers by dropping rocks, molten lead, fire, hot oil, etc. The word was also used for the act of using the opening for its intended purpose.


Means rainy, bringing rain, carrying rain.

I wish there were some imbriferous clouds coming our way. No such luck…


The ability to nod with an air of great wisdom.


I found a new book that I will occasionally use for the word of the day. The words from this book, The Meaning of Tingo (Jacot de Boinod 2005) are not obsolete, rather they are interesting words from around the world.

Let’s start with the word from the title: tingo is a Pascuense word (language of Easter Island) that means “to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by borrowing them.”

They must have gypsies living there.


Divination using mice.

Because, well, that’s the first method I would think of.


I can’t imagine why this adjective is obsolete. It means full of rabbits.

If I had a nickel for every time I needed such an adjective…


This obsolete word was used especially to describe badgers and foxes; it means to cast excrement.

I didn’t realize that badgers and foxes practiced such activity enough to warrant their own word.


To gnash the teeth.


Divination by a broiled ass’s head.

Sounds as good a way as any.


This is a wooden toy that has strings to jerk the limbs around. It is also slang for a politician whose strings are pulled by someone else.

arse up with care

A bit of slang today. This phrase is applied as an adjective or adverb to a thorough mess, chaos, a real bungle.


To be completely overpowered by fatigue.

I missed my blog post yesterday because I was quanked.


This is an obsolete adjective that means laborious, taking great effort.

Moliminous describes my experience with AT&T internet tech support this evening. Hour and a half on the phone and the problem remains unsolved. And according to the tech, unsolvable. The tech’s final analysis? “It must be your computer.”



Thursday, May 31, 2007

This is a drowsy and stupid state of the mind or body.

I’m feeling a bit a’zwodder today. Probably because it’s 95 degrees out there today. Oy.

piss prophet

A physician who judges of the diseases of his patients solely by the inspection of their urine.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Also known as a water scriger.


This is a medical term for having a morbid appetite for food.


I’ll do it one of these odd-come-shortly’s; I will do it some time or another.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Hey, Mom, I will get to that basement project one of these odd-come shortlys.


Living in holes.

Just like I like it.


Having big belly.

True dat.

jack nasty face

A sea term, signifying a common sailor.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

vade mecum

This comes from the Latin, go with me. Vade mecum is a favorite book or reference that is carried about on a regular basis.


Here’s a spelling bee stumper! It means lying hidden, latent or obfuscated.


Containing or covered with filth.


This is an archaic word meaning angry.


A noun meaning the state of befuddlement.

[Like Florida.]


This is an adjective meaning dwelling in marshes.

As in, The Beave is a helobious creature.


Government by the worst and least qualified people.



This is from the Latin nudius tertius and means of the day before yesterday.


A snack between meals, from the Old English bever, a drink.

Not to be confused with The Beave (Beaver), my baby bruddah. He likes to snack between meals.


It means suffering the effects of or suggesting gross intemperance, drunkenness.

I love this word! The sound of it suits its meaning perfectly.


This is early 20th century British army slang. It means whatchamacallit, doohickey, thingamabob, etc. [In Hawaii, it would be da kine.]

Many British army slang terms were imported from India, but oojah has no known etymology. There are several possible modifications to oojah: oojah capivvy, oojah-cum-capivvy, ooja-ka-pivy, oojipoo.


Yes, it is a real word and not obsolete. It means abnormal or irregular; misshapen.

splice the mainbrace

This phrase dates back to the era of sail-powered naval vessels. Back then in the British navy, it was used to indicate a ration of grog. It is now slang for to have a drink or head off for happy hour.

do it up brown

The Dictionary of Cliches (Rogers, 1985) tells us that this means to do something well, to someone’s satisfaction. In England, it had meant to deceive or take in. In either context, it implies doing something thoroughly and probably comes from the roasting of meat (browning). In Liber Cure Cocorum (1420) the term was in the making: “Lay hur [the goose] to fyre and rost hyr browne.”

[I spell like that sometimes.]


Also, maulkin. A general name for a cat; also a parcel of rags fastened to the end of a stick, to clean an oven; also a figure set up in a garden to scare the birds; likewise an awkward woman. The cove’s so scaly, he’d spice a malkin of his jazey: the fellow is so mean, that he would rob a scare-crow of his old wig.

– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

raisin ranch

Slang for retirement community.


These are the transverse wrinkles on the inside of the wrist.

Yep, there’s a name for everything.


I felt like some computer slang today. WOMBAT is the acronym for waste of money, brains, and time.

A good one to remember.


Monday, April 30, 2007

Obviously, this is not an obsolete word. Oh, how I wish it was!! Or at least I wish it was an obsolete weed.

The word comes from the Middle French dent de lion, lion’s tooth, from the toothed leaves. Apparently, the French was a translation of the Medieval Latin dens leonis.


Hands. Tip us your daddle; give me your hand. Cant.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


Counter-clockwise, backwards, in the reverse direction to normal.


This is a person who loves apples.

petty fogger

A little dirty attorney, ready to undertake any litigious or bad cause: it is derived from the French words petit vogue, of small credit, or little reputation.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Hobson’s choice

A phrase today, I think.

Hobson’s choice is to have no choice at all.

It comes from Thomas Hobson who operated a livery stable in Cambridge England from 1580 to 1631. Hobson had a rule that each client who wanted to rent a horse must take the one closest to the door, regardless of the importance of the person or if they had a favorite. It was an iron-clad rule. In this way, he could ensure that no horse would work any harder than the others. Apparently, Hobson had the best horses in Cambridge, so it didn’t hurt his business at all.

idea pot

The head, the knowledge box.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


I’ll do it one of these odd-come-shortly’s; I will do it some time or another.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

clean as a whistle

I felt like a phrase origin today. This phrase meaning neatly and effectively done or pure, was centuries ago actually “clear as a whistle”. That version suggests the origin of the phrase. In order to achieve a clear tone, a whistle, especially a wooden whistle, must be clean.


This is not an obsolete word, but another eponym. [And a word whose meaning I had quite wrong.] Quisling, meaning traitor or collaborator, comes from the name of Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian politician who collaborated with the Nazis.

Now I know.


This is the peace of mind one has after a pleasant dream.


Not an obsolete word, but another eponym. A daguerreotype is an early photograph on a silver, or silver-covered copper plate; also, the process of producing this type of photograph. The term was coined based on the name of the inventor, Louis Daguerre (1839).


Yesterday’s eponym (one for whom something is supposedly named) was originated due to infamy. Today, it’s named for the inventor. This word dates from 1806, named for General Henry Shrapnel.

Henry Shrapnel was a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery when he invented a type of exploding, fragmenting shell. It was a hollow cannonball filled with shot and burst in mid-air. Henry called it spherical case ammunition. The definition of the word includes the actual projectile, plus the shell fragments.


To remove or modify parts of writings that are considered offensive. This word is derived from the name Thomas Bowdler. He was a Victorian era editor who rewrote Shakespeare to remove all profanity and sexual references because of the uptight sensibilities of that time.


Just like it sounds: a filthy, slobbering person.


Everyone knows that triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. Friggatriskaidekaphobia or paraskavedekatriaphobia both describe the irrational fear of Friday the thirteenth. Most people think of it as merely a superstition, but in some it is a real affliction, a phobia.

It is said that if you can manage to speak either word out loud, you will have good luck!


This is the persistent and unwarranted fear of objects at the right side of the body. Levophobia is the fear of objects at the left side.



This is the fear of touching money.

Thank God I don’t have that!

bayard of ten toes

To ride bayard of ten toes, is to walk on foot. Bayard was a horse famous in old romances.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


This is the fear of snow.

At first glance, I thought this word was ohiophobia, which I thought was hilarious. And these days, very appropriate.


We are incabinated due to mountains of snow. It means to be confined, as in a cabin.


This is an obscure word meaning the worship of words.


The medical definition of this word is “transporting or conveying urine.”

I have a new and better definition that I will attribute to Friend Meetwa. Uriniferous describes the powerful porcine urine smell that emanates from the bedding of her 4 new piglets. Too bad she has them staying in the cellar until all that snow melts away!

Sucks to be in Maine right now. And I have but 2 words for the piggies: pee; you.


This is an old liquid measurement used for beer.

Is this how Homer Simpson got his name? “Mmmm, beeeeeer.”


Crooked like the letter Z. He is a mere zad, or perhaps zed; a description of a very crooked or deformed person.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


To cast down or ruin.


Dry, brittle, withered.

Not sexy.


Here’s a word from the 1600s. It means not being able.

Saturday, March 31, 2007


A conceited or impertinent person. The archaic definition was monkey or an ape. I guess we can think of a jackanapes as a person acting like an ape.


This is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.

I’m speechless…perhaps because peanut butter is stuck to the roof of my mouth.


This is the longest non-technical word found in most major dictionaries. It means to estimate or describe something as worthless.

“Legend” has it that the word was coined as a joke by an Eton student. He combined four Latin words meaning nothing or worthless: floccus, naucum, nihil, pilus.


I thought this was interesting… The word salary comes from the Romans. They were given their wage in salt, a salarum.

And they say too much salt is bad for you.


The study of flags.

chicken strips

Aloha everybody! Sorry, I didn’t feel like turning my computer on yesterday, so I didn’t post a word. It was such a beautiful day after so many ugly ones, that I had to be outside. I took my first motorcycle ride of the season! I figured a little motorcycle slang was in order.

Chicken strips are the unscathed outer edges of a motorcycle tire. They indicate that the rider is too chicken or inexperienced to lean the bike way over to the edge.

[I’m sure my tires have chicken strips all over the place!]

vice admiral of the narrow seas

A drunken man that pisses under the table into his companions’ shoes.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


No, this is not someone who is faaabuuulousssss. It is a teller of fables, a liar.


It’s on everyone’s mind, but where did the word come from?

The Romans built a temple to Juno, wife of the god Jupiter. She was queen of the heavens, goddess of light, birth, women and marriage. The temple was named Moneta, the advisor. In 269 BC, this temple was the source of the first coin mint.


This is a new word that is getting recent play. It refers to always on broadband internet and intranet connections. They are always on and ever ready.

butt floss

In honor of spring starting in a few hours, a little surfer slang, I think.

Butt floss is a thong bikini.


– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

That helps, doesn’t it?

[(stage whisper) It means unruly and aggressively noisy.]


Definitely not an obsolete word, but one that I had a vague notion of its meaning and had to look up today to be sure.

Anathema is Greek, meaning devoted to evil, cursed. It is someone or something cursed or banned by ecclesiastical authority; someone or something that is loathed or disliked.

Loathed is such a great word.

drink a toast

The ritual of drinking a toast began as a result of the favored technique of ridding oneself of enemies and rivals by inviting them for a nice meal and then poisoning their drink. In order to prove the drink was not poisoned, the host would raise his glass and take the first drink. This is how the sentiment of “drinking to ones health” came about.

Calling the practice of raising one’s glass in a toast, comes from ancient Rome. The Romans had a habit of dipping a burnt crust of toast into their wine glass before drinking. Apparently, that practice began in order to reduce the acidity of the wine, making it more palatable.

By the 16th century, the English word toast had come to include the definition, a glass of wine containing toast. So, when someone would say, “let’s drink a toast”. It was a shortened version of saying “let’s drink some wine that might have toast in it”. Eventually, the word toast came to mean the ritual itself of raising a glass in celebration.


The original meaning of camouflage was smoke blown into the eyes, blinding the person to what was happening around them. (French camouflet, meaning puff of smoke; and camoufler, to disguise.)

Bob’s your uncle

This is a British catch phrase that means all will be well, or all will be taken care of.

The exact origin origin of the phrase isn’t known, but one theory revolves around the Prime Minister, Robert, Lord Salisbury appointing his nephew Albert Balfour as the Secretary of Ireland in 1887. Apparently, Albert wasn’t really the best candidate, but nepotism was alive and well. And, Bob’s your uncle!

Another possible origin is a variation on the cant expression all is bob, which means all is safe.

kissing crust

The part where the loaves have touched the oven.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

to pull strings

Everyone knows that this phrase means to exert influence from behind the scenes. Its origin is in France several hundreds of years ago.

Back in the day, marionette shows were all the rage in France. The most popular shows were the ones in which the puppeteer, or string puller, would use his puppets to satirize the ruling class and impart juicy bits of gossip. In order to buy the string puller’s silence and save themselves from the public embarrassment, influential people would exchange favors. It soon became known to all that the string puller was the man to see for special favors.


This word apparently originated as American college slang in the mid-19th century. It means money or cash.


Etymologic: the toughest etymology (word origin) game on the Web

I found this site while using StumbleUpon. If you’re into words, you should check it out.

The word curfew came up when I just loaded the page. It comes from the French couvre feu, meaning “cover the fire”. This was a signal given in the old timey villages to bank the fires in the hearths to prevent fires while everyone was asleep.


I heard this again today and I usually forget what it means.

QED is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase quod erat demonstrandum, meaning “which was to be demonstrated”. It is used to indicate that something has been proven.


This means most foul.

daylight saving time

My sister-in-law suggested this one.

Almost everyone seems to call this daylight savingS time, when the proper name is the singular of saving, not plural. This improper usage can even be found in some dictionaries. Saving is a participle in this phrase and modifies time.

Hopefully, everyone realizes that this year DST starts 3 weeks earlier (March 11) than in previous years and ends one week later (November 4). You might want to check for computer updates, otherwise your computer clock and time stamps will be wrong for 4 weeks. It’s the DST bug!

This new DST schedule is a result of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 signed by Dubya Bush. The Department of Energy will complete a study on the impact of the change and based on the results, the new schedule may or may not stay in place. If you want to know all there is to know about daylight saving time, check out this link: http://webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/index.html.

And for my friends in Hawaii, I’ll be 6 hours ahead of you now instead of 5. Keep that in mind, please!


Oh, I hate this when people do this to me!! Interfation is interrupting someone while they are talking.

fecal alchemist

I found this in the online Urban Dictionary while trying to find what “hubs up high” might mean. I was at a convenience store, and the young woman behind the counter was lamenting how she hated snow (at that moment, there was a short-lived blizzard going on outside). She then said, “I just got my hubs up high.” Or at least, that’s what it sounded like she said. I figure it is most certainly urban slang, but have been unable to find its meaning. If you know, please clue me in.

By the way, a fecal alchemist is someone who can take something worthless (a pile of crap) and turn it into something of value (gold).


And the phobias continue…

Automatonophobia is the fear of anything that represents a sentient being, such as ventriloquist’s dummies, wax statues, animatronic creatures.

I’m assuming fears such as these have names because there are people out there who actually have them. Wow.


Fear of vegetables.


This is the fear of body odor.


Lutraphobia is the fear of otters. Yes, I said otters.


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I heard on TV today that this nickname, in reference to a large motorcycle, came about as an acronym for Harley Owners Group.

According to the Wikipedia, citing Harley Davidson history, the nickname actually originated in 1920 due to a winning racing team that had a hog as its mascot. They would put the pig on the back of the Harley to take on their victory lap. In 1983, the Harley Owners Group was formed, deliberately playing off the established hog nickname.

Harley Davidson tried to trademark the hog nickname, but failed. The court ruled that the nickname had become a generic term for any large motorcycle and was not protectable as a trademark.

rum peepers

Fine-looking glasses. Cant.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


The excessive use of the pronoun we; we + egotism.


Describes apes and so forth, that have all four feet adapted for use as hands.

turn turtle

This phrase meaning to capsize or surrender has been around for at least 150 years. One way to catch a turtle is to put it into a helpless state by flipping it over onto its shell. A capsized ship resembled a flipped turtle, making the origin of the phrase clear.


This phrase meaning to capsize or surrender has been around for at least 150 years. One way to catch a turtle is to flip it upside down on its shell to render it helpless. A capsized ship looked so similar to the flipped turtle that the origin of this phrase is clear.


My Why? book (Erin McHugh, 2005) tells us the following about the origin of this word describing unimportant matters.

In medieval times, education was divided into 7 categories. Arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (the sciences); logic, rhetoric, and grammer (liberal arts). The four sciences were known in Latin as the quadrivium, meaning the four ways. The group of 3 liberal arts studies were called the trivium. Anything learned on these subjects was trivial.


This is the last of the “offspring series”. A shoat is the offspring of a hog.


The offspring of a hare.

Apparently, bunny isn’t good enough.

(I tried to post this from my pda yesterday and thought it went through. Just found out that it did not post. Bummer.)


The offspring of an oyster.

It’s true!


This is a person who offers opinions and criticisms beyond his knowledge and expertise.


This is an instrument used to measure pain.

Hmm. I know a lot of folks that would be off the scale for snow shoveling pain. I’m an eleven!


extremely wicked

yard sale

I was checking out the slang dictionary and found this skiing slang phrase. It’s the term for what it looks like after you fall and all your equipment flies off and goes all over.

This happened to me once or twice. And now my knee clicks when I walk up stairs.


The first woman seen by a man, or man seen by a woman, on St. Valentine’s day, the 14th of February, when it is said every bird chuses his mate for the ensuing year.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Hope everyone had a pleasant Valentine’s Day and didn’t spend the entire thing shoveling snow like I did.

wrapt up in warm flannel

Drunk with spirituous liquors. He was wrapt up in the tail of his mother’s smock; saying of any one remarkable for his success with the ladies. To be wrapt up in any one: to have a good opinion of him, or to be under his influence.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Right now here in Cleveland, we would all be well to be wrapt up in warm flannel…as in the “drunk with spiritous liquors” aspect of that phrase. It’s a fit night out for neither man nor beast!


Felt like a “q” kinda day.

A quipo is a contraption of knotted cords used by the Incas for making calculations.


I saw this on TV this morning. It’s a sport that is a cross between dog sledding and cross country skiing. A dog, or team of dogs of 2 or 3, are harnessed up and attached to a human on cross country skis. They race around a twisty, turny course and try to get the fastest time.

The race I saw was being held in New Hampshire. There were at least a dozen spectators! One contestant didn’t get hooked up in time and his 3 dog team took off without him. I was not inspired with confidence for his chances of winning.


Afterwit is knowledge that is obtained too late for it to be worth anything or do any good.

[I feel like I’m overflowing with afterwit.]

bad egg

The origin of this phrase does not come from getting a rotten egg within a dozen once in awhile. According to Common Phrases (Mordock and Korach), it comes from a notorious American criminal named Egg. He paid for his crimes under the law and at society’s hands, as well. His name became used to describe a thoroughly nasty person, a bad egg.

Kind of like his name is Mudd. One story says that this phrase came out of Dr. Samuel Mudd helping fix the leg of John Wilkes Booth after Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Mudd said he had no idea of what Booth had done and informed authorities the following day of his encounter with Booth. Dr. Mudd was convicted of conspiracy by a military court, though he wasn’t a soldier, and sentenced to life in prison. He was pardoned 4 years later in 1869 after he stopped a yellow fever epidemic at the prison; but his name remained synonymous with doing something bad. Since the 1930s, the Mudd family has been trying to clear his name and have the conviction overturned. It seems that it is still up in the air. Apparently, no one seems to have authority to overturn the verdict since it was a military tribunal and Dr. Mudd accepted the presidential pardon, making the conviction moot. Others question his pleas of innocence because he was allegedly a confederate sympathizer and was acquainted with Booth despite protests to the contrary.

Another story says that his name is mud was in use for at least 45 years prior to this incident. Mud was a slang term for a stupid person, a dolt or fool.


This is when one’s teeth project out or are crooked.


The back of your hand.

Who knew?


Uncontrollable winking.

lick your chops

This phrase meaning to eagerly anticipate something comes from a “lost word”. Chop comes from the lost word, chap, which until the end of the 17th century meant the jaw. As we know, animals often lick their chaps/chops before eating, in eagerness presumably.

The Dictionary of Afro-American Slang (1970) indicates that the phrase also means: “The tuning up musicians do before a jam session.”


Vomiting fire; from Latin ignis, fire, and vomere, to vomit.

Back in the day, they used to refer to volcanoes as ignivomous mountains.


This word combines the words artificial intellect. It is used to describe man-made devices that show independent learning behavior.


This word comes from Bruddah Steve today. Guess it’s my birthday present.

Velocitation is when one unconsciously drives too fast. It is caused by long periods of high-speed driving. Your eyes get tired and they cannot judge horizontal speed correctly.


Said of any person remarkably unsuccessful in his attempts or profession.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


A fighting, blustering bully.
– Nathan Bailey’s Dictionary of Thieving Slang, 1737


I’m straying a little bit, but it’s my blog so I can do whatever I want. I found the following information in an archived post of The Straight Dope, by Cecil Adams (2/16/79).

Umingmaktormiut is an Eskimo dialect. The tribe lives in the eastern part of the American arctic. They have several words for snow and ice:

kaniktshaq, snow; qanik, falling snow; anijo, snow on the ground; hiko (tsiko in some dialects), ice; tsikut, large broken up masses of ice; hikuliaq, thin ice; quahak, new ice without snow; kanut, new ice with snow; pugtaq, drift ice; peqalujaq, old ice; manelaq, pack ice; ivuneq, high pack ice; maneraq, smooth ice; akuvijarjuak, thin ice on the sea; kuhugaq, icicle; nilak, fresh water ice; and tugartaq, firm winter ice.

I am posting these words for snow and ice because I have been shoveling all day here at home and it felt appropriate.

I like the statement that Cecil said he had constructed in this dialect: kaniktshaq moritlkatsio atsuniartoq. Apparently, he wanted to tweak it until it meant: “Look at all this freaking snow!” In the format above, it literally means: “Observe the snow. It fornicates.”

I concur.


The origin of the word tip comes from England several hundred years ago. People traveling by stagecoach often sent their servants ahead to make preparations for their arrival. The servant would be given money to hand out to the various service providers “to insure promptness”. To insure promptness was shortened to the acronym tip.


A beggar born. Cant.

– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

the dw words

There are only 3 words in the English language that begin with dw: dwarf, dwell, and dwindle.

Just thought it was interesting…

Gad zooks

This mild exclamation is usually shortened to one word, gadzooks. It originated apparently, as a shortening of God’s hooks, the nails on the cross.

Gad was used in place of God, so that one could avoid using the name of the Lord. Many exclamations were formed using Gad and then adding a made up word for emphasis. In the 17th century, there were plenty of gad words: gadsbobs, gadsbodikins, gadsbudlikins, gadsnigs, gadsokers, gadswookers.

It is time to bring gadsbudlikins back into popular useage.


Piladex was an old game from the late 1800s where an inflated bag was volleyed across a table using the hands.

Kind of like a combination between hacky sack, handball, and ping pong, I guess.


This is a mild oath used in the early 1800s.

Woundikins! It’s snowing again!


We all know that a jiffy is a very short span of time. In some disciplines, that span of time has been defined, however loosely.

In electronics, a jiffy is the time between alternating current power cycles, 1/60 or 1/50 of a second.

In computing, a jiffy is the time one tick of the system timer interrupt, which is typically 1/100 of a second, but not an absolute.

In physics, a jiffy is the time it takes for light to move 1 cm in a vacuum, about 33.3564 picoseconds. [A picosecond is 1 trillionth of a second.]


A blockhead, a stupid person. From the old French jobarde, meaning a stupid fellow; and the Old English noll, meaning top of the head.


Stiricide is the falling of icicles, as from the edge of a roof. 17th century.


This is a lost word used back in the 15 – 1600s. It means in the dark. As in: I stumbled murklins through the garage trying to find the light switch.


Lacking eyebrows.

mahometan gruel

Coffee: because formerly used chiefly by the Turks.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

I’m enjoying some mahometan gruel right now!


A word for a phone number that spells a word.

1-800-bla-blah (1-800-252-2524)! [Count Dracula might answer.]


A tight rope walker.

No, it isn’t so named because it’s fun to walk on a rope. It comes from the Latin funis meaning rope and ambulare, to walk.


To be demoted or devalued.

Plutoed is obviously a new word and was voted 2006 word of the year by the American Dialect Society. It was in close running with climate canary, something whose poor health indicates a major environmental catastrophe.

to vowel

A gamester who does not immediately pay his losings, is said to vowel the winner, by repeating the vowels I. O. U. or perhaps from giving his note for the money according to the Irish form, where the acknowledgment of the debt is expressed by the letters I. O. U. which, the sum and name of the debtor being added, is deemed a sufficient security among gentlemen.

Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811

before you can say Jack Robinson

This phrase describing extreme haste supposedly has its origin in 18th century London. There was an eccentric Londoner named John Robinson, but he was called Jack.

Jack liked to appear at various parties every evening. He would give his card to the butler to announce his arrival. Before the host or hostess could greet him, he was already on to the next party. This was considered quite scandalous and rude back in the day.

A Londoner tobacconist named Hobson was also a singer/songwriter. He heard about Jack Robinson and wrote a song about him and his antics. The phrase before you can say Jack Robinson entered popular usage.

rob peter to pay paul

As most people know, this phrase means to take an unwise action in order to accomplish a desired outcome, particularly taking money from one fund to fill up another.

My Common Phrases book says that the origin of the saying is in 1740 London. In December of 1740, a Royal Letters Patent made the Abbey Church of St. Peter a cathedral. Meanwhile, St. Paul’s Cathedral diocese was struggling financially. It was decided to issue a new Royal Letters Patent that merged the two, with St. Paul’s absorbing St. Peter’s. All of the former St. Peter’s funds were diverted to St. Paul’s. Protestors used “robbing Peter to pay Paul” as their rallying cry.

However, The Dictionary of Cliches tells us that the phrase dates back to the 14th century and John Wycliffe’s Bible translation: “How should God approve that you rob Peter, and give this robbery to Paul in the name of Christ?”

By the way, a letters patent is a form of legislation issued by a monarch or government. In the case of the Royal letters patent, it is issued by the monarch, without consent of parliament.


This is an irregular polyhedron (solid shape with flat faces) with 21 faces. Of the 21 faces, 18 are triangular and 3 are square. The word is made up of hebe (Latin for blunt), spheno (Greek for wedge), mega (Greek for great), and corona (meaning beer…no, just kidding…Latin for crown).

I’m not entirely sure why this type of polyhedron must be named, but there you go.

mare’s nest

A mare’s nest is an illusion or disappointment. The phrase originally started as “horse nest”. The meaning comes from the fact that mares don’t make nests; therefore, if someone claims to find one, it is an illusion.


If you are experiencing borborygmi, your stomach is growling.


Gargalesis is heavy tickling. It comes from the Greek gargalismos, which means tickling.

draw someone’s cork

This means to punch someone in the nose and draw blood.

red-letter day

A red-letter day is, of course, a memorable day or date; a happy day!

The phrase comes from the 15th century. It was customary on the calendars of the day to signify holy days and other important days for the church by printing the numbers in red or purple.


This is the word for when one of your limbs is “asleep”. It is the numbness caused by pressure on a sensory nerve.


We all know that this is a type of pasta, but it also has other meanings. This was pointed out to me recently after The Beave had an epiphany.

He saw an article about the Macaroni Penguin, noted the yellow and black feathers on its head and made the connection to the Yankee Doodle Dandy song (“He stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.”)

In this case, macaroni is slang for a dandy or a fop, a finicky person. Supposedly, there was a group of fancy young men in 18th century London who called themselves the Macaroni Club. They tried to show how sophisticated they were by their preference for foreign cuisine. Young men, especially in England, who then affected continental European mannerisms and clothing, became known as macaronies.

There was also a body of Maryland soldiers during the Revolutionary War called Macaronies. They got this name due to their rich uniforms.


This is the name for insect eating.



A virgule is the slash within a fraction [3/4] or between two words [and/or]. It comes from the Latin virgula, small stripe.

come at pudding time

To come at pudding time is to arrive at the happiest moment.

This phrase originates in the 17th century, and comes from the significance that the English put on their puddings. In the 17th century, all dinners began with a pudding, and pudding time became the same as dinner time. If you were invited to come to the house at pudding time, you were being invited to dinner.

Though there are those still served as a main course, over the years, the pudding eventually became primarily known as a dessert. So, pudding time now means a happy and fortunate time.

Happy New Year and Happy Pudding Time!


Sunday, December 31, 2006
newyear’s gift

An interjection corresponding to “Happy New Year!”
– D.S. Crumb’s The Dialect of Southeastern Missouri, 1903

This is the last word from desktop calendar, Forgotten English compiled by Jeffrey Kacirk. I’ve enjoyed learning these words and I’ve had fun sharing them. Thank you. I very nearly got one word posted every day on this blog; I think I missed one day by about 3 minutes. Not all of the words and phrases were from the aforementioned calendar, there are other sources that I’ve used. But it was nice having that calendar word readily available. will attempt to go into the new year continuing a word a day. The word or phrase may not be an obsolete one, but I’m not changing the name of my blog. So there!

Anyway, I will try keep the streak alive. See you in the new year!


What did you call me??

This is a person who reads in bed.

give the goose

To hiss; from the sounds uttered by geese; theatrical slang.
– Albert Hyamson’s Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

Funny. I thought that would mean something else…

Our Forgotten English calendar also gives a quote today regarding “goose-dancing parties”:

From Christmas to Twelfth-tide, parties of mummers known as “Goose-dancers” paraded the streets in all sorts of disguises, with masks on. They often behaved in such an unruly manner that women and chirldren were afraid to venture out. If the doors of the houses were not locked they would enter uninvited and stay, playing all kinds of antics until money was given them to go away.
– M.A. Courtney’s Cornish Feasts and Folk-lore, 1890


When a peasant of South Northamptonshire has committed any breach of good morals, it is customary for his neighbours to “lowbell” him, the meaning of which is best expressed by its apparent etymology, the past participle of the Anglo-Saxon lowian, and the verb bellan, still retained in this dialect. On the first appearance of the culprit, the villagers rise en masse and greet him with a terrible din of tin cans, kettles, &c. and amidst the hooting and vociferation of the multitude, he is generally compelled to seek shelter by flight. This is called lowbelling, and the actors are termed lowbells or lowbellers, forming a tolerable explanation of lowbell in Beaumont and Fletcher’s Woman’s Prize, which has so long mystified the commentators.
– Thomas Sternberg’s Dialect and Folk-lore of Northamptonshire, 1851

Ahhh, mystery solved!

The best part of that quote is when he says “South Northamptonshire”.

According to Webster’s (1913), lowbell means to frighten, as with a lowbell. (!!!) A lowbell is explained in Webster’s as a bell used at night while fowling, to frighten the birds so they will fly into a net. It is also the bell hung around a sheep’s neck.


A term applied to the weather when there is a thick rain; Galloway.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

A “lum o’ a day,” a very wet day. The rain is just coming lumming down when it rains fast. This word and loom, a mist or fog, are of a kindred.
– John Mactaggart’s Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824


To let squizzle, to fire a gun.
– Mitford Mathew’s Dictionary of Americanisms, 1956

Happy Kwanzaa!

Happy Boxing Day!

Happy St. Stephen’s Day! This is the feast day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He was stoned to death shortly after the crucifixtion. Nice.

Our Forgotten English (Kacirk 2006) calendar tell us that it used to be a custom for the men and boys to go out shooting on St. Stephen’s day. In the British Isles, “Hunting the Wren” or “Going on the Wren” is held on this day. It comes from the story that St. Stephen was betrayed by the singing of a wren while he was trying to escape his guards. Therefore, all good christians go out and blow away the wrens.


Handsome, well-shaped; spoken of horses, cows, etc.
– John Ray’s North Country Words, 1674-91

halcyon days

The current use and meaning of this phrase is nostalgic in nature, recalling the sunny, carefree days of youth.

Halcyon comes from alcyon, a bird in Greek legend commonly considered to be the kingfisher. The h was tacked onto alcyon because of the association with the sea, which is hals in Greek.

Aeolus was the ruler of the winds. He had a daughter Alcyone who was married to the king of Thessaly, Ceyx. Ceyx drowned at sea and in her grief, Alcyone threw herself into the sea. Her father, the ruler of the winds, instead carried her to her husband. The gods changed them into winter birds. Around the winter solstice, the ocean calms and for fourteen days, Alcyone will sit on her floating nest out at sea and hatch out more little kingfishers.

Halcyon means calm and tranquil, happy and carefree; but it is rarely used outside the phrase halcyon days. Halcyon days, those 14 days that the weather is calm around the winter solstice. Seven days before and seven after.

The winter solstice was December 22 this year, so we still have a few halcyon days left. One more halcyon day until Christmas!


To land a fish with unnecessary force. Figuratively, to attack any project with unusual vigor or enthusiasm. Of a girl who quite obviously “set her cap” for a village preacher it was said, “Minnie figures on tree-toppin’ him.” Ozarks.
– Vance Randolph’s Down in the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech, 1953

She’s doing what to the preacher? Minnie! I do declare!

shote’s head

Shote is the name given in the southern states to a young fat hog…. Take out the brains and boil the head till quite tender, cut the heart and liver from the harslet, and boil the feet with the head. Cut all the meat from the head in small pieces, mince the tongue and cut the brains small; take some of the water the head was boiled in, season it with onion, parsley, and thyme, all chopped fine, add any kind of catsup – thicken it with butter and brown flour, stew the whole in it fifteen minutes, and put it in the dish. Have the heart roasted to put in the middle; lay the broiled liver around, and garnish it with green pickle.
– Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House – Wife, or Methodical Cook, 1824

Make that extra pickles, if you please!


Short in stature, but full grown; said of a diminutive female. A ludicrous derivative from nab, “to catch, as a bird catches insects in its bill,” as if the little creature might be taken up between one’s finger and thumb.
– Rev. Rovert Forby’s Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830


To clack wool, to cut off the sheep’s mark.
– John Kersey’s New English Dictionary, 1772

We learn from our Forgotten English calendar that the word earmark comes from the shepherds’ custom of marking their sheep with cuts in their ears.

Adam’s wine

A cant phrase for water as a beverage, our first father being supposed to have known nothing more powerful.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

Also known as Adam’s ale.


Breach of the peace; [from] Anglo-Saxon grith, peace.
– Herbert Coleridge’s Dictionary of the Oldest Words in the English Language, 1863

welch comb

The thumb and four fingers.
– Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811


Provisions purchased; also, the room or place allotted to the keeping of all such provisions as the purveyors purchased for the king; [related to] acater, a caterer, a purveyor.
– James Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1855


A sleigh-ride. “Come on out and have a ponny.” Long Island.
– Harold Wentworth’s American Dialect Dictionary, 1944


Humbug, hoax, pretence; [from] nineteenth-century French.
– C.A.M. Fennell’s The Stanford Dictionary of Anglicised Words and Phrases, 1964

To tell lies.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1888


A confirmed mania or insane craving for alcoholic stimulants; [from] Greek dipsa, thirst, and mania, madness.
– W. & R. Chambers’s Etymological Dictionary, 1877


A thin, watery soup served on some [sailing] vessels. A sailor’s food is oftentimes of the poorest – not to say revolting – description. The following are some of the choicest terms for such dainties: Lobscouse, dandy funk, dogsbody, sea-pie, choke-dog, twice laid, hishee-hashee, dough Jehovahs, tommy, soft tack.
– Albert Barrere’s A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon, and Cant, 1889

I have known many a strong stomach made food-proof by years of pork eaten with molasses and biscuit alive with worms, to be utterly capsized by the mere smell of soup-and-bouilli. Jack calls it soap-and-bullion – one onion to a gallon of water, and this fairly expresses the character of the nauseous compound.
– Clark Russell’s Sailors’ Language: A Collection of Sea Terms, 1883



Supposed to be a kind of sallow colour.
– Robert Nares’s Glossary of the Works of English Authors, 1859

A complexion inclining to the Oriental colour.
– Sir John Harington’s Anatomie of the Metamorphosed Ajax, 1596

[Said to Grim, the collier of Croydon:] “By’r ladie, you are of a good complexion, a right croydon-sanguine.”
– Richard Edward’s Two Most Faithfullest Freends, Damon and Pithias, 1567

Anatomie of the Metamorphosed Ajax?? What the…??

I’ve got to get my hands on that book and the last one about “Most Faithfullest Freends.”

spick and span

Before there were rulers and yardsticks, the most common units of measure were the spick and the span. Spick comes from the spick-nail which today would equal 2 and 1/4 inches. The span was the distance from the extended thumb to the extended little finger on an average-sized hand. Today, it would equal about 9 inches.

Tailors used these measurements. The spick was used for bust and chest measurements. The span was used for length. The spick and span measurements were used so cleanly and precisely that the phrase spick and span eventually came to mean neat and tidy.

fourth-class liberty

Scanning the shore, especially with binoculars, when restricted aboard ship.
– Gershom Bradford’s A Glossary of Sea Terms, 1943

mere corduroy

Mere corduroy is a metaphor for inferior folk. This expression exhibits a curious debasement of association. The word is derived from the French cord du roi, so called because originally worn by the kings of France in the chase, being formally manufactured of silk but now made of other material, and chiefly used by laborers. The word has come to be used as a sort of general designation for this class.
– A. Wallace’s Popular Sayings Dissected, 1895


To lounge or saunter heavily. Loll-poop, a sluggish sedentary lounger. Literally, one who is sluggish in the stern.
– Rev. Robert Forby’s Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830

extra pull

An extra pull, an advantage. A drinking metaphor from the extra pull at the handle of the beer machine.
– Albert Hyamson’s Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

lawyer’s treat

Here’s a good one!!

A phrase implying that each shall pay for his own drinks. A lawyer never treats his clients at a refreshment bar – they “defray the cost” between them.
– Trench Johnson’s Phrases and Names: Their Origins and Meanings, 1906

five-finger tied

Tied by all the fingers of the hand.
– Daniel Lyons’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1897

Exaggerated expression for “tied very securely.”
– C.T. Onions’s Oxford Shakespeare Glossary, 1911

cook your own goose

According to Common Phrases (Mordock and Korach), the origin of this phrase, meaning to get into trouble and have your plans spoiled, comes from old Sweden.

The king of Sweden, Eric, sent his army to subdue one of his provinces that was getting out of hand. His advisors advised against the action because Eric’s army was out-numbered. The opposing forces learned the king’s army was coming, so as a joke, they hung up a large goose for the troops to shoot at. Apparently, King Eric was quite fond of goose and everyone knew that.

The king’s army won the day and the enemy was forced to surrender. King Eric was asked what his terms were. He responded, “To cook your own goose.” When the surrender was finalized, the king sent for the goose, cooked it himself, and it ate it with quite a bit of satisfaction.

The common variation on this phrase is to cook someone else’s goose. In this case, your spoiling someone else’s plans and raining on their parade!

My web searches indicate that unlike Mordock and Korach’s assessment, the origin of this phrase has been lost. The common theory tells the story of authorities of a medieval town that was under seige hanging a goose from a tower. Some say they did this to indicate that they had plenty of food, others that the goose was a symbol of stupidity and they were taunting the enemy. As the story goes, the action only riled the attackers who burned the town, literally cooking the real goose and cooking the goose of the townsfolk in terms of the modern phrase’s meaning. There is no historical evidence to back up this medieval siege story and scholars seem to agree that it is simply a story.


Concentrated, strong. There is an old saying that camp cooks test coffee by dropping an iron wedge into the pot. If the wedge floats, the coffee is too strong. Ozarks.
– Vance Randolph’s Down in the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech, 1953

I had an officemate in grad school who made many a wedge float. Whew!


Keeper of a library.
– Elisha Coles’s English Dictionary, 1713

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Whildom – in former days quondam – is familiar to everyone as an archaic adverb.
– James Greenough’s Words and Their Ways in English Speech, 1901

Oh, yeah, everyone knows that one!

The above quotation comes from Jeffrey Kacirk’s Forgotten English calendar. I find it terribly amusing.

I could not find the definition of whildom elsewhere, but I did find quondam. It means belonging to a prior time; formerly.


An antithetical proverb or saying, in which the parts or members are contrasted or opposed.
– Charles Richardson’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1839-37

“England is a paradise for women, and hell for horses; Italy a paradise of horses, hell for women,” as the diverbe goes.
– Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621


To deceive by flattery or sweet talk; to swindle or cheat. Variations are honeyfugle and honey-fugle.

I read online that it is assumed that this word is derived from coneyfugle which means to hoodwink or cajole with flattery. Coneyfugle from coney, meaning rabbit, and as the site said, fugle meaning to cheat.

Fugle is an archaic word and as we know, the meaning can change over the years. But, the definition I found was to manuever, to move hither and thither; also to make signals.


The so-called English, written to sell by the “Fleet-Streeter,” or baser sort of journalist; a mixture of sesquipedalians and slang, of phrases worn threadbare and phrases sprung from the kennel; of bad grammar and worse manners, the like of which is impossible outside Fleet Street, but which in Fleet Street commands a price and allows not a few to live.
– John Farmer and W.E. Henley’s Slang and Its Analogues, 1890-1904

A sesquipedalian is a long word and a word having many syllables. Sesquipedalian also describes someone who characteristically uses long words. It comes from the Latin and means, literally, a foot and a half long.


To cudgel or beat. From the Latin verb fustigare, meaning to cudgel to death (from fustis, a staff or club).


One who, on the Thames, steals copper from ship’s bottoms.
– Adm. William Smyth’s Sailor’s Word-book, 1867


Having the nature of an insect.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850


In honor of Thanksgiving, a word meaning to eat excessively, overindulge, glut, stuff, engorge, binge, pig out, overgorge, ingurgitate, scarf out.

It’s a fine day for a gilravage! Happy Thanksgiving to all!


A fellow who runs much after the female creation, yet has not the boldness – though the willingness – to seduce any of them.
– John Mactaggart’s Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824


Benumbed, paralysed with the cold, especially when accompanied by contraction of the muscles and violent shivering.
– George Story’s Dictionary of Newfoundland English, 1982

It won’t be long before we’ll be feeling some shinnicking here. I can’t wait!


The third finger of the left hand, on which the marriage-ring is placed, [is] vulgarly believed to communicate by a nerve directly with the heart…. The Romish Church encouraged the notion of immediate intercourse between the heart and the ring-finger.
– James Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1855


quaking cheat

A calf or sheep.
Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811

sheep’s head clock

A clock having the works exposed to view.
– William Craigie’s New English Dictionary, 1926

dough boxer

A cook. Box up the dough, to cook.
– Maurice Weseen’s A Dictionary of American Slang, 1934

eat the mad cow

To be reduced to extremities, so as to eat even a cow that has died of madness. From the French.
– Albert Hyamson’s Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

What I find most interesting about this is it seems to indicate that mad cow disease was recognizable enough in the early 1900s to spawn its own phrase. I knew that the disease had been around, but I didn’t think it was common enough to enter the lexicon back then.



To lay a bottle on its side for some time, after its contents have been poured out, that it may be completely drained of the few drops remaining. Elsewhere, one is said to ‘make the bottle confess.’ Aberdeen.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

See, now this is why words should not become “obsolete”. Isn’t it much easier to say “duffifie” than “to lay a bottle on its side…” blah, blah, blah?

I’m just sayin’.

curl one’s liver

To experience intensity of feeling – enjoyable or otherwise.
– John Farmer’s Americanisms Old and New, 1889


Pertaining or relating to, or consisting of, satellites.
– T. Ellwood Zell’s Popular Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Language, 1871


It may be a little early to talk about this word, but my dad learned the word origin in a book he was reading. It was wacky enough for me to put up the word today.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant, meaning it grows on the branches or trunk of another tree with the roots actually penetrating into the tree. There are 2 types of mistletoe, one native to North America and one to Europe. The Greeks and other ancient peoples thought mistletoe had mystical powers, and over time it became part of various folklore customs. A rarer type of mistletoe that grows on oak trees was highly venerated by the Celtic Druids and used in various ceremonies. These beliefs and customs eventually made their way to North America, where the native mistletoe is the one commonly associated with Christmas tradition.

Mistletoe was believed to be quite magical. It brought life and fertility, protected from poison, and was an aphrodisiac. In the Middle Ages, mistletoe was hung from ceilings and doors to ward off evil spirits and keep out witches. The first association with kissing under the mistletoe was during the Greek festival of Saturnalia and then in later primitive wedding rites. Kissing under the mistletoe bestows fertility.

Proper mistletoe etiquette says that once a man kisses a woman under the mistletoe, he must pluck one of the berries. When all the berries are gone, there should be no more kissing.

This is where it gets good, the word origin. It was believed by the “ancients” that mistletoe grew from bird droppings. It was an accepted belief that life could spontaneously sprout from dung. Mistletoe was observed to grow on parts of trees where birds had left droppings. The word comes from mistel, the Anglo-Saxon word for dung, and tan, the word for twig. So, mistletoe means dung-on-a-twig.


drive pigs

To drive pigs to market, to snore like the grunting of pigs.
– Albert Hyamson’s Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

He is driving his hogs over Swarston Bridge, this is a saying used in Derbyshire when a man snores in his sleep. Swarston Bridge is very long, and not very wide, which causes the hogs to be crowded together, in which situation they always make a loud grunting noise.
– Capt. Francis Grose’s Provincial Glossary, 1787


An indolent person. “An idle whilt.”
– John Brockett’s Glossary of North Country Words, 1825

In the phrase, “to catch one a-whilt,” to put one in a state of confusion. Scotland.
– Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary, 1896-1905

pedlar’s French

The jargon, used by thieves, tramps, etc. “Frenchman” was formerly a synonym for a foreigner.
– Albert Hyamson’s Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922


Jocular, love of hotels and inns.

Who knew?


Collecting and confining [voters] several days previous to an election in a house or on a vessel hired for the purpose. Here they are treated with good living and liquors, and at a proper day are taken to the polls and “voted,” as it is called, for the party.
– James Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms, 1877

Hmm. Politicians used to make a practice of giving free alcohol to voters. It was called “treating”. Apparently, the majority of George Washington’s election expenses went to treating.


A steerer is the go-between of the shyster and prisoner. By wile and guile he brings clients to the lawyer and in return gets a liberal reward, usually half of what the shyster is able to squeeze from the victiim. Steerers, in courts where discipline is not maintained, move about the benches, among relatives and prisoners, learning details of a case, offering to get counsel who are “in” with the magistrate, persuading (or intimidating, if possible) and, if successful, turning over the victim to the shyster with whom they are in league. Most of their work is done on the outside, however; few are brazen enough to ply their trade actually within the courtroom, but hang about the corrideors and halls.
– Richard Thornton’s An American Glossary, 1912


A poor attempt at humor.

Apparently as in, “That witzel really sucked!”


A dynamiter.
– Edward Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895

One who aims at regenerating society by the free use of dynamite.
– Albert Barrere’s A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon, and Cant, 1889


Paltry stuff, ill-got riches; the refuse after the hawk is satisfied.
– John Kersey’s New English Dictionary, 1772


A whitish beast with a hog’s head that drinks through the nostrils.
– Elisha Coles’s English Dictionary, 1713

I think I saw Colus at the bar this evening.


A set of ruling persons, comparable to vampires.
– William Craigie’s New English Dictionary, 1928

I learn something interesting every day. Apparently, a superstitious reason for use of headstones was to weigh down and protect coffins, keeping vampires either in or out. When a headstone had settled into the ground all off-kilter, it was thought to have been disturbed. Obviously by vampires.



Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Appearance as a phantom.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary Supplement, Spurious Words, 1933

Happy Halloween!!


A gamester, one that practises dice-playing.
– Dyche and Pardon’s New General English Dictionary, 1740

to steal one’s thunder

In the early 1700s, a manager/actor named John Dennis invented a machine that made stage thunder which he used in one of his plays. Apparently, he wasn’t a very good playwright and the play wasn’t open for very long. It was closed and replaced by a production of Macbeth staged by another company. Dennis went to opening night and was outraged to hear his own thunder machine being used in the play. He jumped up and yelled, “That is my thunder, by God; the villains will not play my play , but they steal my thunder!” His words have also been reported as “That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder, but not my play!”

Whatever the actual words were, the phrase came in to being, meaning to take away the effect of someone’s remarks or actions, or to appropriate someone’s idea or claim to fame.


A boy flings an apple to some distance. All present race for it. The winner bites as fast as he can, his compeers lugging at his ears in the mean time, bears it as long as he can, and then throws the apple, when the sport is resumed.
– James Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1855

Talk about being starved for entertainment. [insert rimshot here]

tote right

To be fair; to conform to the local ethics. “I aim to tote right with everybody in this county whether they voted for me or not,” said a newly elected sheriff. The phrase tote fair carries the same meaning. Ozarks.
– Vance Randolph’s Down in the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech, 1953


A theory which ascribes qualities of a creature to God.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1893


A two-fold or double reading or interpretation.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1897



A substance contained in the juice expressed from the green shell of the walnut (Juglans regila). It is used as a remedy in cutaneous and scrofulous diseases; also for dying the hair black.
– Daniel Lyons’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1897

In case you were wondering, scrofulous diseases are those related to scrofula, which is the swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck. Nice.


To tread heavily or pace about; whence, probably strumpet, a street walker.
– Charles Mackay’s Lost Beauties of the English Language, 1874


That’s a number raised to the eighth power.

Okay. This is the type of word that makes me wonder who makes this stuff up? I envision a bunch of wordsmithies sitting up late at night drinking and smoking. “Wait, wait! I got a good one!!” The real word was probably zenzenic, but they got a stutterer.


A person very easily imposed upon.
– Maj. B. Lowsley’s A Glossary of Berkshire Words and Phrases, 1888


Architect; from French architecteur, Late Latin architector, Latin architectus. Also, in the fifteenth century, a superintendent.
– C.A.M Fennell’s The Stanford Dictionary of Anglicised Words and Phrases, 1964


[Oooh, this is good.]

Study based on the theory that man had sprung from trees.
– T. Lewis Davies’s Supplemental English Glossary, 1881

And here I thought they had just sprung out of trees.


A church beadle…with his long wand of office [for] tapping (nawping, we lads called it) the heads of either sleepers or unruly youngsters.
– John Wilkinson’s Leeds Dialect Glossary and Lore, 1924

A beadle is a minor parish official who is responsible for ushering and preserving order at church services.


Not catching the scent till too near. [The condition of a hunting dog.]
– James Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1855

Did you know that dogs have about 220 million receptors for smelling as compared to the 5 million in humans? Dogs can even smell things under water! Dogs are awesome.


A large hand in writing, so called because it was the practice to write the text of a book [the text-copy] in a large hand, and the notes in a smaller hand.
– Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828

My desktop calendar tells me that it is American Dictionary Day, in honor of the birthday of Noah Webster (1758-1843). Fun fact! While a student at Yale University, Noah was known as the “walking question mark.”


It means thick-skulled.

Oh, boy, I can see me using this word alot!


One who is guilty of impropriety in the language.
– Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828

brazen tombs

The allusion is to the ornamenting of tombs of eminent persons with figures and inscriptions on plates of brass. “Live register’d upon our brazen tombs.” Love’s Labour’s Lost.
– Rev. Alexander Dyce’s Glossary to the Works of Shakespeare, 1902


Servility; fawning behavior, like that of a slave. [Adapted from Latin] verna, a slave.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

roving forty

A small acreage of land owned by a logger who, however, cut timber all over the country with no regard for ownership. Western Great Lakes.
– L. G. Sorden and Jacque Vallier’s Lumberjack Lingo, 1986

Hey! Today is the Feast Day of St. Gomer, a patron of woodsmen.


A sylvan goblin, the protector of hazel-nuts.
– James Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1855

Hazel nuts!!??

A wood-demon who is supposed to guard over unripe nuts. “Melsh Dick’ll catch thee, lad,” was formerly a common threat used to frighten children going nutting.
– Rev. Alfred Easther’s Glossary of Almondbury and Huddersfield, 1883

Today is Hipping Day, which is the official day last day of blackberrying in Sussex. Hipping Day gets its name from a confection made from the red berries of the wild rose. It is said that the devil goes around on this day and spits on the bramble-bushes; therefore, it is dangerous to go nutting because you might run into the Evil One.

Who knew searching for nuts could be so fraught with danger?


A great eater, who cheats at hotels, eating-shops, and oyster-cellars; from a person of that name who lived many years ago, and who was an enormous oyster-eater. According to the stories related of him, Dando would visit an oyster-room, devour an almost fabulous quantity of bivalves, with porter and bread and butter to match, and then calmly state that he had no money.
– John Camden Hotten’s Slang Dictionary, 1887


It means “being full of beer”.

I want to be gambrinous right now.


A barbarously formed substitute for damnation.
– Edward Gepp’s Essex Dialect Dictionary, 1923



The breaking up of a school at the great holidays, when the boys within bar the door against the master. Northern England.
– Samuel Pegge’s A Supplement to Grose’s Provincial Glossary, 1814

Apparently, there was a custom around the holidays called “orders”. The schoolboys would lock out the headmaster and come up with various holidays for the upcoming year that the headmaster would have to promise to observe. If he signed his name to the “orders”, he would be allowed back in and celebrations would begin. The headmaster would, of course, try to gain his entrance by force without signing the orders, but was most often unsuccessful. If he did get in on his own, some sort of punishment was issued and school would resume.

Shoulda tried that at my office…


A confusion; a state of tumult or disorder. It may be conjectured that the term has some affinity to the old tune called Reel o’ Bogie, as perhaps referring to some irregular kind of dance. [From] reile, to roll.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

tib of the buttery

A goose; [from] tib, a young lass; also, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a wanton. St. Tibb’s Evening, the evening of the last day, or Day of Judgment. “He will pay you on St. Tibb’s Eve.”
– Capt. Francis Grose’s A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1796


A mythical disease alleged to be very serious, painful, and socially objectionable….Double scrud, here the “double” makes the …disease even worse.
– Harold Wentworth and Stuart Flexner’s Dictionary of American Slang, 1960

tea leafer

A curious case of adulteration was revealed in evidence given in court a century ago, which discovered that many persons made a living by picking sloe leaves and whitethorn leaves in the fields near Camberwell and selling them to a local cowkeeper for a penny a pound. One man said he picked from fifty to sixty pounds a day, and always found a market for them. The leaves were subsequently sold to a wholesale merchant who could obtain as much as eight shillings a pound for them under the guise of tea. The merchant was prosecuted and fined, not for adulteration but for defrauding the Revenue [Service]. And “tea-leafer” is still a slang name for the petty thief.
– Frederick Hackwood’s Good Cheer: The Romance of Food and Feasting, 1911

“Tea-leaf” is for some inexplicable reason the name used by the police for pickpockets.
– Charles Booth’s Life and Labour of People in London, 1903

spill the beans

This phrase meaning to reveal a secret comes from the ancient Greeks. At election time, all the candidates would line up their helmets. The people voted for their candidate by putting a bean into his helmet. At the end of the election, the one with the most beans was the winner. The count was public and when the winner was announced, his helmet was returned to him with the beans in it. To signify his acceptance of the elected position, he would spill the beans out and put the helmet on his head. The helmet contained the election results, so spilling them out was akin to disclosing a secret. Thus the phrase as we know it today.


Saturday, September 30, 2006

An Ulster correspondent kindly sent me this word (short for “daylight-gone”) as a local usage for twilight or eventide….It is not a dictionary word, but investigating the lexicon led me to discover that English words for daybreak have indeed been many and charming. Over and above day-break and day-dawn there are day-peep, day-rawe, day-red, and day-rim. More abiding has been the day-spring, which the Church of England has preserved in Tinsdale’s phrase about our visitation by “the day-spring on high.” From day-spring to dayligone suggests long, basking hours in a warm lucid air.
– Ivor Brown’s Chosen Words, 1955


A useless antique object preserved in worshiping the picturesque. An imitation of a bygone style. Ninkty, architecturally dishonest.
– Gelett Burgess’s A Dictionary of Words You Have Always Needed, 1914

nothing like leather

There’s nothing like leather is an expression often used as a comment on commercial success, or to imply that trade in a good established national industry is far preferable to modern speculations or other sources of income. In spelling books of a past generation, moral fables were frequently interspersed, and among them often figured “the town in danger of a siege.” To protect the town against this catastrophe, each craftsman recommends his own material: the builder, bricks; the carpenter, wood; the ironsmith, iron. The fable proceeds with these words: “A currier much wiser than these both together cried, ‘Try what you please, sirs, there’s nothing like leather.'” The satire of the foregoing is frequently implied in the expression as used today, and when a merchant has sung too loudly the praises of his trade, an auditor will perchance offer with a sly wink the comment, “There’s nothing like leather.”
– A. Wallace’s Popular Sayings Dissected, 1895

Hmm. I think I heard Xena say that once.


That which may be reduced to fine powder. From Latin pulvis, pulveris, powder. Pulverous, consisting of, or like, dust or powder.
– Daniel Lyons’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1897


A kitten; an ancient word [as] kytlynge… Kendel of cats, a litter of cats. [From] kittle, to bring forth kittens. A very old word written in Palsgrave[‘s 1530 French dictionary] kytell.
– John Brockett’s Glossary of North Country Words, 1825

A young cat. A super – or rather subdiminutive; a diminutive of a diminutive. Catling might have been enough. However, Jamieson, Brockett, and Wilbraham’s Cheshire Glossary all give it.
– Rev. Robert Forby’s Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830

So there.


Darkness; [from] German fisterniss.
– Herbert Coleridge’s Dictionary of the Oldest Words in the English Language, 1863


A good-for-nothing; a worthless person, animal, or thing.


An auctioneer. [from Old French vendue, a sale.]
– John Wharton’s Law Lexicon, 1883

Not to be confused with fondue-master…

The things I learn from my little desktop calendar. On this date in 1915, Stonehenge was purchased at auction by one Cecil Chubb. He bought it for his wife for about $5,500. In 1917, the Stonehenge Airfield was built nearby to be used for training by the Royal Flying Corps. The RFC recommended that Stonehenge be demolished because it was a hazard to low-flying planes.

We are fortunate that cooler heads shot down that recommendation. The Druids must have been spinning in their barrows!


Of the common sort; ordinary; [related to gregarious and] gregal, belonging to a herd.
– William Grimshaw’s Ladies’ Lexicon and Parlour Companion, 1854

Similar to the word gregarious, meaning social and tending to associate with one’s kind.


The designation still given in Galloway to the bread used in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This is not baked in the form of a loaf, but in cakes such as are generally called shortbread. In Dundee, Holy Doupies.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

Holy Doopees, Batman!


An obscene term borrowed, I suppose, from intercourse of foxes. Hence the name of Gowdy-chare in Newcastle.
– John Brockett’s Glossary of North Country Words, 1825

Apparently, there are lots of words used to describe such activities in animals. Croyn is the cry a deer makes at rutting time. Rellif is the copulation of hares. Blissom is the behavior in sheep when they desire the male. Blissom also is used to denote the lustfulness of the male of a species. Eassin is a verb for desiring the male, but was also used to describe any kind of strong urge.


This is a glass vessel designed to draw blood.

Today is the feast day of St. Januarius, the Italian patron of phlebotomists.

There’s a patron saint for everything, isn’t there?


Obstinacy; inflexibility; determination of mind; stubbornness. The word, though it has been tried in different forms [such as opiniatrety], is not yet received, nor is it wanted.
– Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1755

put the kibosh on it

This phrase means to put an end to a discussion or event. It comes from old England. On Petticoat Lane, there were many auction stores that were owned and/or patronized by Dutch Jewish refugees. They had made their way to England to avoid religious persecution and knew very little English, so they did their trading in Yiddish. Kibosh was the Yiddish word for “eighteen half-pence” or “nine pennies” which was a rather insignificant amount. When a bidder wanted to cut short the bidding on a petty article, he would yell out, “Kibosh.” Bidding would stop and the item would be sold to the one who put the kibosh on it.


Midling, as regards to health. “Art thou meaverly?” are you pretty well?
– Rev. Alfred Easther’s Glossary of Almondbury and Huddersfield, 1883


To hold a merry meeting, with noise and riot, but without doing injury to anyone. It seems generally, if not always, to include the idea of a wasteful use of food, and of intemperate use of strong drink. According to the first orthography, the term may have formed from gild, a society, a fraternity, and the verb to ravage, or from French ravager; the riotous meeting of a gild or fraternity. Could we suppose that the proper pronunciation were guleravage, it might be derived from French gueule, the mouth, the throat, also the stomach, conjoined with the verb already mentioned; to waste… to gormandize.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808


Busy, crowded with work or occupation; from the English throng, to crowd, and the German drang, pressure, drangen, to press, and the Flemish dringen, to press, to squeeze.
– Charles Mackay’s Dictionary of Lowland Scotch, 1888

Cecil’s fast

A meal of fish, from the legislation introduced by William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, making compulsory the eating of fish on certain days.
– Albert Hyamson’s Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922


The sourenesse of the countenance.
– Henry Cockeram’s Interpreter of Hard English Words, 1623


There are people who read too much, bibliobibuli. I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion. They wander through this most diverting and stimulation of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing.
– H.L. Mencken’s Notebook 71, 1956

There are some words that just seem to roll off the tongue. This is one of those. But I question whether it is possible to “read too much”.



Kentucky colonel

A bogus colonel. After the American Civil War, it is alleged, nearly every man in Kentucky was either a captain, a colonel, or a general.
– John Sandilands’s Western Canadian Dictionary and Phrase-Book, 1913

Apparently, Colonel Harland Sanders, the Kentucky Fried Chicken guy, was one of these. He had achieved only the rank of private during a brief stint in the US army. The custom of awarding oneself a military title started in the American South about 2oo years ago. The titles of colonel, major and captain were so ubiquitous in the Maryland, Virginia, and Carolina colonies that in the London Magazine (July 1746) it said “the whole country seems at first to you a retreat of heroes.”


The plural of English beef, oxen, black cattle.
– Edward Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895

Hey, Beave! Here we thought it were riffing on Leave It To Beaver. Little did we know… That whole, “black hole” thing takes on new significance too, don’t it?


To put in jeopardy, jeopardize, endanger.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1901

According to Jeffrey Kacirk’s desktop calendar, in 1922 the Minnesota State Fair started their “Thrill Day”. I guess it was kind of like the television show, Stunt Junkies. You watched people do insane things. It debuted with Lillian Boyer, 18 years old, who claimed to be the only female aviator to have boarded a moving automobile from a flying airplane. [I watched a guy on Stunt Junkies parachute from an airplane into a Corvette convertible going 70 mph.] On this date in 1934, the Minneapolis Journal announced that you could see “Marion Swanson pilot her racing auto through a plank wall” and “the most spectacular of crack-ups,” a head-on train collision. “They telescope, enveloped in flames with clouds of steam and smoke pouring from the battered hulks. They roll over, a mass of mangled scrap iron – what a thrill!” In the 1940s, the fair featured airplanes crashing into buildings.

Sounds like fun!


Money paid or exacted as poll-tax.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1909

ride in the Black Maria

Around 1825, a woman named Maria Lee lived along the Boston waterfront. She was a rather portly African woman. When sailors on shore leave had celebrated a little too much and became too difficult for the local constables to handle, Maria Lee was called in. Apparently, because of her size, no sailor was too big or too strong for her to handle. She was able to slap the manacles on any one of them and the police would take them away. She became known as “Black Maria”.

Maria Lee became so respected that when the British police van was introduced in England in 1838, it was called “the Black Maria”. American sailors who had their own ride in the Black Maria after drinking too much on shore leave, brought the name back to the US.


The prepared entrails or skins in which sausages are made.
– Rev. W. T. Spurdens’s The Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1879


This is the tip of the middle finger.

Don’t you raise that dactylion at me!


Oblivious; [from] Lethe, one of the rivers of hell, said to cause forgetfulness of the past to all who drank of its waters. From Greek letho, old form of lanthano, to forget.
– Daniel Lyons’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1897


A thing given or forfeited to God. In law, it is an object or instrument that is forfeited because it caused a person’s death. In medieval Europe, the object or its equivalent value, was to be given directly to the Church or to the crown, to pacify God’s wrath, and presumably to be put to some pious use.

The deodand was outlawed by the English Parliament in 1846 because they realized that Medieval law was difficult to apply to a growing commercial society. It is also banned in some states in the US, being written into the state constitutions.

I know the Law moves slowly, but don’t you think this law from the Middle Ages is just maybe, perhaps a couple centuries out of date? Maybe?


Thursday, August 31, 2006

A feel with the hand, or ratherly a feel which returns with good tidings to the senses; persons purchasing grain generally estimate the price of it by its finnie, or the way it feels.
– John Mactaggart’s Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824

It’s a fine finnie.

with squirrel

Pregnancy is seldom mentioned when both men and women are present…. If no women are about, a hillman may remark to a comparative stranger that his wife is ketched, or…too big for her clothes, or comin’ fresh…or with squirrel…. When a man’s wife was about to be delivered of a child, a friend said to the husband, “Well, Tom, it looks like your bees are a-swarmin’.”
– Vance Randolph’s Down in the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech, 1953

I’m speechless. I suppose I should be thankful I live in a more progressive time. I suppose.

“Perils to soul and body accumulate about the great moments of birth, marriage and death. A woman after childbirth is the most dangerous thing on earth; demons are round about her, and if she goes to a river to wash, the fish will all go away…. Until she is churched after the child’s birth, and, in the infant’s case, until it is baptized, both are specially open to fairy influences.”
– Eleanor Hull’s Folklore of the British Isles, 1928



– Herbert Coleridge’s Dictionary of the Oldest Words in the English Language, 1863


The name of a species of fun known to the Nantucket folks, which is thus described by the New York Mirror: “A party of ladies and gentlemen go to one of the famous watering-places of resort, where they fish, dig clams, talk, laugh, sing, dance, play, bathe, sail, eat and have a general good time…. Care is thrown to the wind, politics discarded, war ignored, pride humbled, stations levelled, wealth scorned, virtue exalted, and this is squantum.”
– James Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms, 1877

[The Feast of Squantum]…Held annually on the shore to the east of Neponset Bridge at a rocky point projecting into Boston Bay, about five miles from the city…. Squantum was the name of the last Indian female who resided there, and when the feast is held with the ancient ceremonies a person comes forth dressed as Squantum herself and harangues people in the manner of the Indians. It is a feast of shells, and the refreshments are lobsters, clams, oysters, quahogs, and every fish that is covered with a shell together with the fish soup called chowder. It is common to eat these only with clam shells.
– Richard Thornton’s An American Glossary, 1912

Well, now, I worked quite a bit in Cape Cod and never did I hear of Squantum. Relation to Squanto? I suppose they don’t celebrate it anymore. Of course, in New England, no one needs a special occasion to dig and eat quahogs, lobstah, or chowdah. Too bad, though, a chance to discard politics, ignore war, humble pride, scorn wealth, and exalt virtue sounds like a good time.

[I totally dig clams, man.]


According to Webster’s Dictionary, this phrase means: 1) by compulsion, without choice; 2) in a haphazard or spontaneous manner. Webster’s says it comes from the alteration of will I, nill I.

According to Common Phrases (Murdock and Korach), the phrase comes from a legal writ known as Nolens Volens. Freely translated, this is a writ of “not willing”. It was used under common law to take people into custody against their will. It was used so frequently for petty disturbances and minor infractions that they became known as Nilly-Willy Writs. From this nickname came willy-nilly.


A cold-looking, naked, trembling being, small of size.
– John Mactaggart’s Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824


bull’s noon

Midnight. The inhabitants of dairy counties can vouch for the propriety of this term. The repose is often broken in the dead of night by the loud bellowing of the lord of the herd who, rising vigorous from his evening rumination… as if it were broad noon, and blores with increased rage and disappointment when he comes to a fence which he cannot break through.
Rev. Robert Forby’s Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830


Pumice stone of volcanoes; a dentrifice.
– John Coxe’s Philadelphia Medical Dictionary, 1817

I’m a volcanologist, and I’ve never heard this term!

On this date in AD 79, Mt. Vesuvius erupted. It buried Herculaneum and Pompeii and killed thousands of people. Some managed to escape by boat, like Pliny the Younger, who wrote his eyewitness account of the event. Apparently, this eruption occurred on the feast day of Vulcan, the Roman god of subterranean fire. How’s that for irony?

The cities were forgotten until 1711. A local farmer, living in a village above what was once Herculaneum, was digging a well and found marble fragments. The excavation eventually discovered a slab in 1760, bearing the name of Pompeii.

The volcanic ash preserved the 2 cities very well, and provided a rare and unique glimpse into history and Roman life.


Full, plump; usually spoken of corn or fruit, in opposition to fantome, anything fat or distended.
– John Brockett’s Glossary of North Country Words, 1825

Just had lunch and I’m feeling rather pubbly….


A collection of curiosities.
– Maurice Weseen’s A Dictionary of American Slang, 1934


In the new system of French measures, the length of ten thousand meters, equal to two mean leagues of the ancient measure.
– Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828

The myriametre [is] equal to nearly six and one-fourth miles.
– Charles Davies’s The Metric System, 1871

burning question of the day

Before the days of separation of church and state, a person not professing the religion of the state was guilty of treason by heresy. The penalty for heresy was death by burning.

When people started fighting for religious freedom and separation of church and state, those people were considered guilty of heresy and many were captured and executed by burning. Because so many burnings were taking place, the great debate of the day, that of freedom of worship, was called “the burning question.”

Eventually, the writ of “De Heretico Comburendo” (pertaining to the burning of a heretic) was repealed and abolished. Freedom of religion was recognized as a human right. The freedom of open discussion and debate on important issues was also recognized as a human right. These important issues that require such free and open discussion are burning questions of the day.


One who deserves hanging; a scamp, rascal; one who would fill a “widdy,” or halter. Also attributively, deserving to be hanged, scampish, rascally; Scotland.
– William Craigie’s New English Dictionary, 1928

To cheat the widdie, to escape the gallows, when it has been fully deserved.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808


A bounding in springs or fountains.
– Daniel Fenning’s Royal English Dictionary, 1775

That bursts out, or runs over, out of which water riseth.
– Thomas Blount’s Glossographia, 1656


Webster’s says this is American slang, being a corruption of the word doxology. It means something that finishes or ends a matter, as in a heavy blow, a conclusive answer, and the like.

Doxology is a form of praise to God that is intended to be sung or chanted by the choir or congregation. Customarily this comes at the end of the service as a finishing act.

Davy Crockett had this to say in The Bear Hunt (1835): “I gave the fellow a socdolager over his head with the barrel of my gun.”


Abuse, impertinence, insolence.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1919


These were old pitchers made of leather, and in some cases lined with metal, for holding beer. They are thought to have been named from the Jack, a horseman’s defensive upper garment, quilted and covered with strong leather. The term jack was also used for a coat-of-mail, and out guards to this day, wear “jack-boots.” Leathern jacks are used at Christ’s Hospital for bringing in the beer, whence it is poured into wooden piggins. Black-jacks are of smaller size.
– John Timbs’s Things Not Generally Known, 1859

I should write a book called Things You Would Rather Not Have Known. The follow up will be Things You Never Should Have Known…Ever!


Short-winded, especially in consequence of being too lusty.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

Hmm. If y’all are purfled out there, I don’t want to know about it.


An instrument to measure eggs.

I would have thought it was an instrument for measuring the spectacularness of fireworks. Oh, I guess that would be more like an ooooooometer.

wild train

A railroad train not on the timetables.
– William Craigie and James Hulbert’s Dictionary of American English, 1940


The act of burning; the state of being burnt; [from] Latin ustus, to burn. [Related to] ustorious, having the quality of burning.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

few broth

I cannot help observing one application of the word few, peculiar to the northern counties, for which there seems to be no justifiable reason….[T]he common people will always say, “Will you have a few broth?” and in commending the broth will add, “They are very good.” This is an appropriation so rigidly confined to broth that they do not say a few ale, a few punch, nor a few milk, nor a few of any other liquid. I would rather suppose that they thereby mean, elliptically, a few spoonfuls of broth, for broth cannot be considered as one of those hermaphroditical words which are singular and plural, such as sheep and deer.
– Samuel Pegge’s Anecdotes of the English Language, c. 1800


A peculiar mode of catching eels in small streams and ponds, described by Izaak Walton.
– Adm. William Smyth’s Sailor’s Word-book, 1867

Izaak Walton wrote the book The Compleat Angler, or Contemplative Man’s Recreation, 1668.

Take a strong, small hook, tied to a string about a yard long, and then into the hole where an eel may hide himself, with a short stick put in a bait leisurely. If within the sight ot it, an eel will bite. Pull him out by degrees.
– Richard Coxe’s Pronouncing Dictionary, 1813


Act of housing beasts.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

According to William Henderson’s Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England (1879), Kludd was a stable boy’s worst nightmare. Kludd is an evil spirit of alarming and dreadful character. Peasants so feared Kludd that they would not venture into a forest, field, or road haunted by him. Kludd often transforms himself into a tree which starts small and then rapidly grows, everything that is shadows is thrown into confusion. He commonly appears as an old, half-starved horse. The grooms and stable boys will mount this horse by mistake instead of their own. “Kludd sets off at full speed, the frightened lad clinging on as best as he may, till they reach water, into which he rushes and laughs wildly, till his victim, sullen and angry, has worked his way to dry land.”

That kooky Kludd!


A misfortune of calamity; a curse, mischief. Chiefly used as an imprecation in the phrases, with a wanion [and] wanions on you.
– Edward Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895

A wanion on you, too!


A milk drinker.

Not obsolete, but certainly obscure…


– Maurice Weseen’s A Dictionary of American Slang, 1934

Now that’s a mouthful.


Probably rough, boorish, according to Lord Hailes. It might bear this meaning as descriptive of the shaggy appearance of [a] dog, …from French bourru, flockie, hairie, rugged, [and Old French] bourre, locks of wool. But it seems more naturally to convey the idea of cruelty…from French bourreau, an executioner.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

Burrie, to push roughly; to crowd confusedly and violently; to overpower.
– Alexander Warrack’s Scots Dialect Dictionary, 1911


To write as a poet.
– John Bullokar’s An English Expositor, 1616


To make naked; [1300s-1500s].
– Charles Mackay’s Lost Beauties of the English Language, 1874

Nakedize, to go naked.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1908

Do you know why Lady Godiva rode her horse through town all nakedized? She had nagged her husband, Leofric, into agreeing to lower unjust taxes on the local peasants if she rode around naked. Leofric was probably kidding around when he agreed, and was horrified when she went through with it. As a concession, she let Leofric save face by partially concealing her body with her long, luxurious hair. Godiva also requested that the townspeople avert their eyes as she passed. A tailor named Tom refused the request, leading to the birth of the phrase peeping Tom.


Pertaining to the bank of a river.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

See, there’s a word for everything!

Monday, July 31, 2006


Welkin is an old word for the clouds. It is kept only in the phrase “to make the welkin ring.”
– James Greenough’s Words and Their Ways in English Speech, 1901


A barrelmaker.

Coop is a general term meaning a something to confine, or to contain. Formerly the word coop was used for a cask or barrel to contain liquids. The Germans still use kupe for a tub or vat, and kupfer for one who makes tubs. We still say cooper for a tub-maker, and the word coop, a tub, still remains in our dictionaries, but it is not used.
– Eliezer Edward’s Words, Facts, and Phrases: A Dictionary of Curious Matters, 1882


A small barrel. It was formerly used here instead of a bottle, by labourers who took milk and beer in it. It is also called a stoop, containing, according to Bailey, two quarts.
– William Carr’s Dialect of Craven, 1828

cook, slut, & butler

A common expression applied to a person who does all the turns of work in a house.
– John Brockett’s Glossary of North Country Words, 1825

Today is the Feast Eve of St. Martha, the patroness of housewives. According to legend, she vanquished a dragon with holy water while doing housework.


white night

A sleepless night, from the French phrase, passer une nuit blanche.
– Albert Hyamson’s Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

Today is the day Roman Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. The legend goes that around A.D. 250, these seven Catholic boys fled Ephesus to escape punishment by the Roman Emperor Decius. Seems that Decius passed an idolatrous edict that the good Catholic boys refused to obey. They tried to hide in a cave on Mt. Coelius, but were found and Decius ordered the cave sealed. The boys fell asleep and woke up over 200 years later in 479. Not realizing anything out of the ordinary, they sent one of their group to town for food. The age of the coin that the boy tried to use at the baker’s shop aroused suspicion. An investigation was launched and the whole affair was declared a miracle.


The taking of swans, performed annually by the swan companies, with the Lord Mayor of London at their head, for the purpose of marking them. The king’s swans were marked with two nicks, or notches, whence a [spurious] animal was invented… called the “swan with two necks.” A manuscript of swan marks is in the library of the Royal Society. Upping the swans was formerly a favorite amusement, and the modern term swan-hopping is merely a corruption from it. The struggle of the swans when caught by their pursuers made this diversion very popular.
– James Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1855

About this time each year, the Worshipfull Company of Dyers and the Worshipfull Company of Vintners round up swans at various places upriver from London – a custom dating back to medieval times. Using sharp knives, the companies’ swan wardens indicate ownership with one or two nicks, respectively, to distinguish their birds from royal ones. The Two-Necked Swan and the Swan with Two Necks, corrupted names based on the two nicks administered in this custom, became popular appellations for British pubs as early as the 1550s.
– Jeffrey Kacirk’s Forgotten English

The appropriate response to this bit of knowledge is stunned silence. And then: “These are people with entirely too much time on their hands.”


One that is very exact in observing forms and ceremonies. [From] punctual, consisting in a point.
– Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828

I guess this makes me an anti-punctualist.


To toil in mud or filth; to splash among water.
– Alexander Warrack’s Scots Dialect Dictionary, 1911

nest egg

Farmers learned that domesticated chickens need to be coaxed into prolific egg laying. To do this, they planted a false egg, called a nest egg, in each hen’s nest. With more eggs, the farmer could make more money, which he could save instead of spend. Planned savings such as this became known as nest eggs.

dogs in the hay

Frankfurters and sauerkraut.
– Harold Wentworth’s Dictionary of American Slang, 1960

Some more fun greasy spoon terms:

Adam and Eve on a raft: two eggs on toast
wrecked Adam and Eve: scrambled eggs
Eve with the lid on: apple pie
one-two-three-and-a-splash: dish of meat, potatoes, bread, and gravy
one foot in the grave: soup (because invalids often eat it)
zeppelin in a hanger: frankfurter in a bun
one on the city: glass of tap water
bucket of hail: glass of ice cubes
Missouri River: gravy (play on the river’s nickname, Big Muddy)


It was indeed by the name of Bostonians that all Americans were known in France… Coffee-houses took that name, and a game invented at that time, played with cards, was called Boston, and is to this day [1830] exceedingly fashionable at Paris by that appellation.
– Samuel Breck’s Recollections [and] Passages from His Notebooks, 1877

quite the cheese

Quite the cheese means quite the correct thing, especially in the matter of costume or manner…. This phrase is an adaptation from the word choose, and admits the interpretation, “what I should choose.” By a sort of double refinement of this expression we hear things referred to as “that’s prime Stilton,” or “that’s Double Gloucester.”
– A. Wallace’s Popular Sayings Dissected, 1895

I like this one alot. I am going to dedicate my life to bringing back this phrase. I can start right now. Did you see the latest Daily Show with Jon Stewart? He is quite the cheese. Or, did you see the picture of my new motorcycle? It is prime Stilton!


A Scotticism for the racket used in the game of tennis.
– T. Ellwood Zell’s Popular Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Language, 1871

Apparently, tennis originated during the Middle Ages as a courtyard contest called “real tennis.” Among the avid players were the kings of France and England, Francis I and Henry VIII, respectively. The popularity of “real tennis” dropped after the reign of Charles II in the mid 1600s. Modifications of the game to “lawn tennis” revived its popularity by allowing increased numbers of people to play.


The government of an alien; [from] Greek heteros, foreign, and arche, rule.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850


Supported by, dependent or subsisting on, the doles or gifts of patrons; formed on Latin sportula, little basket, dole, gift; [1600s].
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1919

Not to be confused with spatulary, supported by spatulas, wooden spoons, and wire whisks.

poney up

This phrase, meaning to pay up or make good on an obligation, comes from the word pone which is derived from the Latin ponere, to seize.

Pone, pronounced poney, was the name of a legal writ of common law. It was issued in a case where the bailiff was ordered to watch a defendant’s goods or require security from the defendant to assure his appearance at trial. Essentially, bail money.

bellows to mend

A person out of breath, especially a pugilist, is said to be bellows to mend when winded.
– John Camden Hotten’s Slang Dictionary, 1887


A blue matter which is scraped off the face in shaving.
– John Mactaggart’s Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824

Scurf, generally used in relation to the head.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

Scurf is something like flakes or scales, in this case, dandruff. But blue matter??? Maybe someone out there can explain that to me.


To discourse as an atheist.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

This date in history…

…the Scopes “Monkey Trial” began in 1925. Tennessee high school biology teacher, John Scopes, was ultimately found guilty and fined $100 for violating a law against teaching evolution in public schools. The Tennessee Supreme Court later overturned the verdict on a technicality.

I’m wondering if the technicality had to do with such a law being preposterous.


Virago; a lewd woman; (Scottish) an unmarried woman or girl.

By the way, a virago is a nagging or abusive woman.

Two for the price of one today. You guys are soooooo lucky.

talking through your hat

I feel like a phrase origin today…

This phrase comes from an English custom dating to the mid-1800s. Prior to that time, all worshipers would kneel in church and say a short prayer before sitting down in the pew. One Englishman started a new craze when he wanted to avoid getting his pants dirty. He thought it was sufficient to hold his hat to his face and while standing, say a short prayer before sitting in the pew. Other people began to imitate the man and the practice spread. However, the devout were shocked and soon the phrase talking through your hat was used to describe any talk that was irreverent, insincere, or false.

heaven defend

Heaven forbid; Othello.
– Rev. Alexander Dyce’s Glossary of the Works of Shakespeare, 1902

baker’s dozen

Everyone is familiar with the baker’s dozen which consists of 13 items. The term came about as a result of baking being one of the first industries that was subjected to governmental regulation. The king of England decided it was necessary to police the baking profession because at the time, they were selling unhealthy products and would cheat by shorting the weight and the count. Huge fines were imposed to curb the cheating. In order to avoid any possible run-ins with the law, bakers threw in an extra item for every dozen: the baker’s dozen.

Government at work.


An officer who preceded a procession, clearing the way and playing a flute.
– William Toone’s Glossary of Obsolete and Uncommon Words, 1832


To become dried; to become leaky through drought. To gang gizzen, to break out into chinks from want of moisture; a term applied to casks. Figuratively applied to topers, when drink is withheld.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

FYI, a toper is a drunk.


An heir; from the Old Norse arfr, inheritance, [and] niman, to take; used from the tenth to thirteenth centuries.
– Joseph Shipley’s Dictionary of Early English, 1955

Graham bread

Whole meal bread, so named from Dr. Sylvester Graham, who introduced it.
– John Farmer’s Americanisms Old and New, 1889

Sylvester Graham was a Presbyterian clergyman from Massachusetts who invented the Graham cracker. Awesome! He was an advocate of healthy, clean living. He believed in hygiene, a vegetarian diet, cold baths and strict chastity. Here’s a quote: “Beyond all question, an immeasurable amount of evil results to the human family from sexual excess with the precincts of wedlock.”

Here’s a list of things he believed would result from “sexual excess” between a husband and wife: “Languor, lassitude, general debility and heaviness, depression of spirits, loss of appetite, indigestion, faintness and sinking at the pit of the stomach, increased susceptibilities of the the skin and lungs to atmospheric changes, feebleness of circulation, chilliness, headache, melancholy, hypochondria, hysterics, feebleness of the senses, impaired vision, loss of sight, weakness of the lungs, nervous cough, pulmonary consumption, disorders of the liver and kidneys, urinary difficulties, disorders of the genital organs, weakness of the brain, loss of memory, epilepsy, insanity, apoplexy, and extreme feebleness and early death of offspring.”

Well, that just about covers everything, doesn’t it? I have to wonder…was he married?


A shop where intoxicants are sold without a license.
– John Farmer and W.E. Henley’s Slang and Its Analogues, 1890-1904

Happy Fourth! Time for a stop at the wobble-shop!

taken abroad

A bicycle is “taken abroad” when taken to pieces, and “brought home” when it is put together. A door is “brought home” when closed.
– T.C. Peter’s Manuscript Collection of Cornish Words


This is a good one.

This is a form of prophecy that involves walking in a circle that is divided into zones until falling from dizziness. The prophecy is dependent on the zone the diviner falls in.

Those prognosticators are a wild bunch, aren’t they?


A small bell worn on the shirt or waistcoat of a dandy and covered by the coat. The bell, activated by a spring, was rung whenever an outworn funny story [or “chestnut”] was told.
– Jay Taylor’s Snake County (Missouri) Talk, 1923

I think I need one of these for conversations with my parents.

Friday, June 30, 2006


Nonsensical talk.
– Maurice Weseen’s A Dictionary of American Slang, 1934

What jibberjabber.


Divining by the coagulation of cheese.
– John Gaule’s Magicall Astrologicall Diviner, 1652

I don’t even know what to say about this one. Those diviners are kooky!


The watch from four to eight P.M. is divided into two half, or dog-watches, one from four to six, and the other from six to eight. By this means they divide the twenty-four hours into seven watches instead of six, and thus shift the hours every night.
– Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years before the Mast, 1840

The expression dog-watch, which at first sight may present a difficulty to the inquirer, is merely a corruption of the dodge-watch.
– A. Wallace’s Popular Sayings Dissected, 1895


To flatter, coax, make much of. Of a dog, to play, gambol.
– Michael Traynor’s The English Dialect of Donegal, 1953


To drink a long draught with a sucking sound of the mouth, as if in great thrist or with great relish.
– Charles Mackay’s Lost Beauties of the English Language, 1874

seven-sided animal

A one-eyed man or woman, each having a right side and a left side, a fore side and a back side, an outside, an inside, and a blind side.
– Francis Grose’s The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue


A grower of roses; [related to rosary, originally a rose garden].
– Edward Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895


Extreme madness.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

This is an appropriate word for today, Midsummer’s Eve. Apparently, folks used to believe that this was a period of madness and imagination run wild! It’s a day for acromaniacs.

By the way, Midsummer, centered around the summer solstice, begins celebrations around June 24. This despite the fact that June 24 is no longer the longest day of the year. Every 7 centuries, the actual astronomical solstice moves one day forward of the solstice marked by the Julian calendar.

This makes me more tolerant of my VCR that loses 5 minutes every 2 weeks.


The hangman’s craft.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1901

You have got to be scoganizing! That’s a craft?

Apparently, this word came from yet another “famous” or infamous hangman of the 1600s, Jack Ketch. His name became a general nickname for the hangman.


Jesting, mockery; after Scogan, jester to Edward IV.
– Edward Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895


A hangman or executioner; also employed as a term of abuse.
– William Craigie’s New English Dictionary, 1926

Hey, did you know the late 1500s/early 1600s there was a famous hangman named Derrick? That’s where the name came from for the weight-bearing crane.


Capable of being avoided or warded off.

I guess that’s why INevitable means unavoidable. Had one of those “AHA!” moments.

That’s right.

pay through the nose

In the 9th century in Northern Ireland, England imposed a poll tax of one ounce of gold on all households. If it wasn’t paid, the penalty was to slit the nose of the tax delinquent. Therefore, the tax became known as the Nose Tax and to avoid the penalty, the Irish had to pay through the nose.

pokeweed religion

The sort of religious excitement that springs up rapidly and seems impressive, but has no permanent value. The term lightnin’-bug revivals carries the same meaning. Ozarks.
– Vance Randolph’s Down in the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech, 1953

I want a copy of that book, Down in the Holler. Sounds like a hoot and a half!


Addicted to laughing or sneezing.
– Daniel Lyons’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1897

According to folklore, the soul leaves the body when a person sneezes. This is why we say “God bless you!” It forces the soul to return.

justice is blind

I want to do a phrase origin today.

The early Egyptian pharaohs were concerned with administering justice, but trials were crude. However, they had one practice that wouldn’t be bad to institute in modern times. To avoid passion and prejudice, trials were held in dark courtrooms. The Egyptians believed that if the all the participants could not see each other, the judge would be only moved by the facts of the case. The judgement would be impartial.

When the phrase justice is blind is used today, it is most often in irony, pointing out the shortcomings of modern justice.


A child’s toy, made of the larger bone of a pig’s foot and two worsted strings, and worked so as to give a snoring sound.
– Alexander Warrack’s Scots Dialectic Dictionary, 1911

Boy! And I thought dolls were stupid toys…

submerged tenth

To a portion of the struggling masses has of late been applied the phrase the submerged tenth, from it having been asserted on good authority that fully one-tenth of our population are born and live in penury, and never… “rise to the surface.”
– A. Wallace’s Popular Sayings Dissected, 1895

Rats! I think I’m one of these!


Anything which the wind or tide drive in from the ocean upon a shore. They are termed so from “venture,” because people have often to venture, or risk their lives in obtaining them, for when a junk of shipwreck, or other driftwood, gets into the surf of a rock-bound shore, the rude “venterers” catch hold when the prey comes within reach, and are dragged by the rebounding waves into the deep, and so left to perish in the turbulent brine….Persons living by shores who happen to get rich are always suspected to have “made themselves up” by gaining rich venters, such as trunks full of cash, pipes of wine, or casks of brandy, but this is often not true.
– John Mactaggart’s Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824

in hot water

I think everyone is familiar with this phrase meaning to be in an unpleasant or dangerous situation. You probably don’t think about literally being in hot water.

In feudal days, to be in hot water was to be charged with a capital crime. There were no courts and no trials by jury. Instead, the accused were subjected to “trials by ordeal”. The ordeal was usually decided based on the type of crime. If the crime warranted a death penalty, the ordeal was by fire or hot water. The hot water ordeal called for the accused to be put into a large cauldron of boiling water. If they survived, they were aquitted. If scalded to death, the person was considered guilty and justice done.


[This one goes out to my friend, M-Biddy…snicker.]

A male fowl; a product of prudery and squeamishness.
– John Farmer’s Americanisms Old and New, 1889


[Here is Friday’s real word of the day:]

A time during which hunting in a forest is prohibited, originally applied to the fawning time of deer.
– William Whitney’s Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, 1889

Fence moneth is alwaies fifteen daies afore Midsomer and fifteen daies after.
– Richard Crompton’s Authority and Jurisdiction, 1594

Apparently, they didn’t know how to spell in the 1500s.


A nursery of snails.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, 1850


Damn! I missed Thursday by 3 minutes! My streak is over. That’s what I get for working late and then stopping for a few beers. Oh well, I hope you’ll forgive me.


Said of milk, “the milk tastes thatchy” because the cows eat thatch. A long, coarse grass growing in the salt marshes is known on the New Hampshire and Massachusetts seacoast. If it was ever used for roofing, it is no longer…. marshy milk, in Charleston, South Carolina, is the milk of a cow feeding on the marsh grass, which gives the milk a peculiar marshy taste.
– Frederick Allen’s Contributions to the New England Vocabulary, 1916

Yummy! My “7 whole grains” cereal tasted thatchy this morning. But I think that was because I was actually eating thatch.


To cry, as a buck does at rutting time.
– Thomas Browne’s The Union Dictionary, Containing All That Is Truly Useful in the Dictionaries of Johnson, Sheridan, and Walker, 1810

The title of the source is better than today’s word! Even in its heyday, I wouldn’t have pegged the word troat to be included in “all that is truly useful”.


The remains of a shoulder of mutton broiled for supper, or for the next day.
– Alexander Warrack’s Scot’s Dialect Dictionary, 1911

tell it to the Marines

This phrase expressing disbelief is the modern equivalent of “Gimme a break” or “Yeah, right”.

As the British Empire grew, it was necessary to make the mission of the armed forces a little more specific. The activity of the Royal Navy was confined to manning vessels and patrolling the seas. A separate force, the Royal Marines, was responsible for policing the many British possessions. The first marine recruits didn’t know anything about navigation and seamanship. As they were transported to their land stations by the Royal Navy, they became the victims of practical jokes by the regular sailors. The sailors told the marines all sorts of imaginary tales of the sea. The gullible young marines earned the nickname “gulpins”, which in sailor slang refers to a person who believes anything he is told. In time, if a sailor told his buddy an incredible story, the response would be, “Tell it to the marines.”


A person born on Whit Sunday, generally considered unlucky and fated to slay or be slain…or both; from cingcis, Pentecost.
– Michael Traynor’s The English Dialect of Donegal, 1953

Pentekoste in Greek means the 50th day; Pentecost is the 50th day after Easter. Whit Sunday (the 7th Sunday after Easter, which happens to be tomorrow) celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit in the form of flames to the Apostles, as told in the New Testament. The Apostles were given the gift of tongues so that they could teach the Gospel to foreign nations.

Not sure of the connection to this being an unlucky day to be born, but I’m glad it’s not my birthday tomorrow.


To make any disagreeable noise with the mouth. Sussex.
– James Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1855

I love to squackett! Am I a squacketteer? Or a squackettsmith?


The noise too dry shoes make when walked with.
– John Mactaggart’s Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824

I wish I had known this word the other day when I was accused of passing gas when I was actually jirging.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Beaten in games; Devonshire.
– James Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1855

The Cleveland Indians are getting shrumpsed BIG TIME!! [Note: depending on season, simply substitute “Browns” or “Cavs” for “Indians”.]


– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, 1850

Memorial Day was observed for about a century as Decoration Day before it was made an official federal holiday in 1966. It began as a quiet remembrance by decorating the graves of those killed during the Civil War.


Entertainments consisting of readings, with music, etc., the price of admission being a penny. They commenced in 1859, and were formerly common, but are now less heard of.
– Edward Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895

won’t hold water

This phrase, describing a flawed argument, originates in Roman mythology. Tutia was one of the Vestal Virgins, the women who tended the fire in the Temple of Vesta in Rome. They were required to remain virgins while holding office. Tutia was accused of losing this distinction and was told by Pontifex Maximus to prove her innocence.

The method of proof was for Tutia to carry a sieve full of water from the Tiber River to the Temple of Vesta. If the sieve held the water, she was innocent. If it did not, she was guilty and would be buried alive. Tutia passed the test. Eventually, the phrase won’t hold water came in to being to describe anything that can’t pass the test for integrity and soundness.


An instrument for ascertaining the quantity of dew collected on the surface of a body during the night; [from] Greek drosos, dew, and metron, measurement.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

During the month of May, from the time of the druids to about the 1930s, women used to collect the dew from Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano near Edinburgh. They used sponges, scraping tools, and various containers to collect the early morning dew from the plants and grasses. The dew was considered to have special ingredients for preserving the skin and whitening clothing.


A writer of books; an author; a term of slight contempt.
– Daniel Lyons’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1897


Addicted to delaying; prone to delay….Adapted from Latin cunctationem, the noun of action from cunctari, to delay.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1893

hit the maples

To bowl.
– Maurice Weseen’s A Dictionary of American Slang, 1934


Any sudden, loud and quick sound; so to stram the doors means to shut them with noise and violence. Hence, a bold and unexpected lie that greatly surprises the hearer is called a strammer, and hence also to strammer means to tell great and notorious lies.
– Frederick Elworthy’s Specimens of English Dialects: Devonshire Glossary, 1879

run emptins

To show signs of not holding out well, as for instance in a speech. Probably from the analogy of a beer-barrel. Western Connecticut.
– E.H. Babbitt’s The Dialect of Western Connecticut, 1893

gone to the dogs

A person who has wasted his life, or money that is spent foolishly has gone to the dogs. This phrase originated in ancient China when dogs were not allowed within the city walls. The dumping of refuse was also prohibited within the city walls. Refuse was dumped outside the walls where stray dogs roamed and would pick through the piles looking for food. The trash had gone to the dogs.

When the practice of banishing criminals beyond the city walls began, they were said to have gone to the dogs. And often, their fate was the same as the trash: attacked and eaten by hungry dogs.


Breeches; speaking of a purse, &c. taken from the breeches pocket, they say, “it was got from the kickseys,” there being no cant term for the breeches pocket. To turn out a man’s kickseys means to pick the pockets of them, in which operation it is necessary to turn those pockets inside out in order to get at the contents.
– James Hardy Vaux’s Vocabulary of the Flash Language, 1812


One that marries after his first wife’s death.
– Thomas Blount’s Glossographia, 1656

That just sounds bad, doesn’t it?


This word is unknown in origin. It was used as an expression of contempt or to reject something as trifling or impertinent.

“Tillyfally, Sir John. Never tell me your ancient swagger come not in my door.”
– Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Some might say fiddle-faddle.


A physician who does not proceed on methodical principles, but acts empirically; a quack.
– Edward Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895


A bald head. Comes from pilled garlic, I guess because the bald head looks like a peeled garlic.


The act or state of having three wives or three husbands at the same time.
– Robert Hunter’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1894

In the ancient Church, trigamy was only allowed to such as had no children by their former marriages.
– Ephraim Chambers’s Cyclopaedia of Arts and Sciences, 1728

Boy. For the Church, it really is all about procreation, isn’t it?

bum fodder

Soft paper for the necessary house or torchecul.
– Francis Grose’s The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811

It’s toilet paper!

villain regardant

In law, a villain regardant is one annexed to the manor or land.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

The meaning of the word villain has changed over the centuries. First, it was the serf or peasant, coming from the Latin word villanus, because attached to the villa or farm. The meaning changed as it was taken for granted by the higher classes of society that the peasant was vulgar, dishonest, selfish, and generally having low moral standards. The word as we know it today describes a deliberate criminal or scoundrel and an uncouth person, leaving no remnant of the original meaning and nothing at all about a villa.

cow’s thumb

Done to a cow’s thumb; done exactly.
– Capt. Francis Grose’s A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1796

I tried to find the origin of this phrase, but couldn’t find anything. I did find another web site that had a different definition for done to a cow’s thumb: fatigued to the point of illness or fainting. That’s from the writing of Georgette Heyer from the early 1900s.

maiden rents

A noble [tax] by every tenant in the manor of Builth, in Radnor [Wales] at their marriage. It was anciently given to the lord for his omitting the custom of Marcheta, whereby some think he was to have the first night’s lodging with his tenant’s wife.
– Thomas Blount’s Law Dictionary and Glossary, 1717

It was common in Scotland and parts of northern England for the lord to “lay with” his tenant’s bride on the first night. This practice was abolished by Malcolme III at the insistence of the queen. [Go Queenie!] Instead, a payment was made to the lord by the bridegroom.


The art or method of assisting the memory by associating the objects to be remembered with some place, the parts of which are well-known.
– Robert Hunter’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1894

Amazing feat of memory! In Chicago on this day in 1858, Louis Paulson engaged in a interesting concentration challenge. He played 10 simultaneous games of chess with respected players while blindfolded. Over 920 moves were made, but certainly thousands were considered during the course of the games. Paulson had become known for being able to play chess without pieces or a board. [Not sure how that happens, but I guess entertainment was very different in the 1800s.] Paulson made no mistakes during the challenge and even corrected the mistakes of some of his opponents.

Paulson won 9 of the 10 games. The tenth ended in stalemate.


Good one!

A person who coins words in some field; a person who delights in using the particular language of some occupation or sport.
– Maurice Weseen’s A Dictionary of American Slang, 1934


One who works at a soda fountain. New Mexico.
– Elsie Warnock’s Dialect Speech in California and New Mexico, 1919

Well, I guess that’s better than being called a soda-jerk.

On this day in 1886, John S. Pemberton, Atlanta pharmicist, started selling his backyard-brass kettle-brewed headache and hangover remedy. It contained dried South American coca leaves, which was a common medicine ingredient of the day, African kola-nut extract, and fruit syrup. He marketed it as a “Brain Tonic and Intellectual Beverage.” At the suggestion of his accountant, John S. called it Coca-Cola. The story goes that a lazy soda-squirt didn’t want to walk all the way to the other end of the counter to add tap water to the syrup as directed, and instead added carbonated water from the nearest spigot. The soda beverage was born.

First year sales were not great. $50 was taken in and $73.96 was spent in advertising. In 1887, Pemberton sold 2/3 of his ownership of Coca-Cola for $1,200.

That’s got to go down in history as one of the worst deals ever!

to be knocked into a cocked hat

This means to be routed completely in a physical or verbal contest.

The expression comes from the practice of military officers to carry their soft hats under the arm, thus flattening it out. The hats became triangular shaped when flattened. So, when someone was crushed in a contest, they were flattened as completely as an officer’s cocked hat.

Red Leary

On May 7, 1879, John “Red” Leary was a New York City gang leader who broke out of jail with the help of his wife. Red specialized in liquor and prostitution, but at the time was being held for an 1876 bank robbery. His wife rented a 5th floor room in a tenement adjoining the Ludlow Street Jail where Red was being held awaiting extradition. The wife calculated the location of the escape tunnel and directed 2 gang members with a hydraulic “jimmy”. They tunneled through 5 feet of masonry, removing a ton of bricks. When they broke through the last layer of wall, Red was perched on a 3rd floor toilet waiting for them.

So celebrated did the exploit become, that it passed into baseball slang. A coach who wanted to instruct a player to break loose and steal a base simply yelled, “Red Leary!”
– B.A. Botkin’s New York City Folklore: Legends, Sagas, Heroes, and Characters, 1956


To attend a lady to public places as a protector.
– Daniel Lyon’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1897

Back in the 1800s, apparently it was rather indecent to say the word leg in front of a woman. The word limb was used instead.

I’m so glad we aren’t in the 1800s anymore…well, most of us anyway.


This is a person who likes to nibble on a woman’s earlobes.



A splinter; [adapted from] Saxon spelc.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

I’ve got tons of spelks in my fingers from working in the yard.


To bewitch by a certain evil influence of the eye.
– Nathaniel Bailey’s Etymological English Dictionary, 1749

The evil eye!


Old term for a chimney-sweep, who solicited jobs by ringing a bell. From Saxon cnyllan, to knell, or sound a bell.
– John Camden Hotten’s Slang Dictionary, 1887

Happy May Day! In the late 1700s, the first of May was a general holiday for milk-women and chimney sweeps. Hurray!


Sunday, April 30, 2006

This is the seemingly spiteful behavior shown by inanimate objects.

My lawn mower is manifesting resistentialism. It is evil and must be destroyed.

don’t give a damn

This phrase gets its meaning from an old Hindu coin whose value fluctuated wildly over the years. The value varied from one-thousandth of a rupee to one-fortieth of a rupee. When the value was low, British troopers used its name to describe things or facts that were worthless.


It’s the gauntlet!

A race which a criminal was sentenced to run in the navy or army, for any heinous offence. The ship’s crew, or a certain division of soldiers, were dispose in two rows face-to-face, each provided with a knotted cord, or knittle, with which they severely struck the delinquent as he ran between them, stripped to the waist. Commonly pronounced gantlet.
– Adm. William Smyth’s Sailor’s Word-book, 1867

The word comes from Ghent and the Dutch word loopen, to run.

On this date in 1789, there was a mutiny on the HMS Bounty. Mister Christian!


The mistress of a thief.
– John Farmer’s Americanisms Old and New, 1889


as they ran

If you bought or sold cattle as they ran, you did so without counting them. Texas.
– Peter Watt’s A Dictionary of the Old West, 1850-1900, 1977


The first appearance of dawn, day-break; [from] scraich, a shriek, a scream. Scotch.
– Edward Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895


Pretending to foretell future events; [from] pythoness, the female or priestess who gave oracular answers at Delphi.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

Maybe the current meaning of this word relates to Monty Python. A pythonic breakfast would be spam, eggs, sausage, and spam. A pythonic walk would be very silly, indeed. A pythonic dessert would be a rat tart with not so much rat in it.


The fear of being buried alive.

This is not an obsolete word, and apparently, is a rather common fear. George Washington himself said this: “Have me decently buried, but do not let my body be put into a vault in less than two days after I am dead.”

Before the practice of embalming, it was not unheard of for people to be mistakenly buried alive. In the 18th century, the signaling, or escape hatch, coffin was invented. Some sort of signaling mechanism was installed in the coffin. Bells, flags, and firecrackers were used. Breathing tubes were installed. One model included a shovel, food, and water. The signaling coffin wasn’t around for very long, but the fear still exists. An application for a patent for a “coffin alarm” was submitted as recently as 1983.


Over serviceable or officious; doing more than is required or desired. “A whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue.” King Lear.
– Daniel Lyon’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1897

Wow. King Lear didn’t mince words, did he?

Finical means affectedly fine, overnice, unduly particular, fastidious. The affectation is shown in language, manner, and dress.

Happy Earth Day!


A bad habit or custom; a vice [c. 900-1400]; unthewed, ill-mannered, unruly, wanton [1200- late 1300s], unthewful, unmannerly, unseemly [c. 1050-early 1300s].
– William Craigie’s New English Dictionary, 1926

Guess what thew means? It is a habit or custom, a form of behavior, a virtue. Well, that’s the obsolete meaning. Nowadays, it means a well-developed muscle or sinew; muscular strength. So, next time someone says, “Hey, check out my thews!” You’ll know where to look.


Profits and proceeds. It is used in New England for the proceeds of goods sold, or for rents, issues, or profits.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850


A party of pleasure, differing from a picnic in that it occupies several days instead of one.
– Robert Hunter’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1894

I want to go marooning!


That’s an earthquake! Surprise, surprise!

Today is the 100th anniversary of the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Hundreds of people died. Despite modern technologic improvements in “earthquake-proofing” buildings, most of the existing buildings were built before such improved standards. When the next “big one” comes (that’s when, not if), based on those previous casualties vs. population, they are predicting upwards of 26,000 people will perish.

There’s a happy thought.


One who goes about in a fantastic guise or dress; a masquerader, a mummer; chiefly Scottish.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1901

The word originates from the French word guise, meaning dress.


Today’s word comes to us courtesy of the Sensei. It is not obsolete, but that doesn’t matter.

Pareidolia is the erroneous or fanciful perception of a pattern or meaning in something that is actually ambiguous or random. It comes from the psychological term describing the mind’s obsession with discerning patterns in essentially random objects. Like finding shapes in the clouds or faces on Mars or objects in ink blots.


Full of chads. The bread is chaddy [if] it has been made of meal not properly sifted to get out the husks, fragments of straw, or gritty particles of the mill-stone.
– Rev. Robert Forby’s Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830

Let’s hear it for the infamous hanging chad!


An epicure.
– Thomas Wright’s Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, 1957

An epicure is someone devoted to sensual pleasure; someone with sensitive and discriminating tastes, especially in food and wine.


The use or choice of words.
– William Craigie’s New English Dictionary, 1928

Keep it down! I’m vocabulatin’ over here.

Welsh ambassador

The cuckoo. “Welsh ambassador” means that the bird announces the migration of Welsh labourers into England for summer employment.
– Ebenezer Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1898

Beginning some time during the 19th century, around this time of year, the first official Cuckoo Day was held in England. Before the official day was established, spontaneous celebrations would break out when the country folk would hear the first cuckoo heralding the arrival of spring.


To cover with something which cannot be thrown off, generally applied to water; to throw upon something so as to cover or bury it; to turn the open side of a vessel downwards. [From] Saxon abwhilsan.
-Daniel Fenning’s Royal English Dictionary, 1775

Fun fact! It is the Feast Day of St. Gemma, an Italian patroness of apothecaries.


A grove of trees.
– Nathaniel Bailey’s Dictionarium Rusticum, Urbanicum, and Botanicum: A Dictionary of …Country Affairs, 1726


A lightweight wool or worsted twill fabric, used chiefly for coat linings.

Worsted is a compactly twisted woolen yarn. Who knew?


An appearance of truth; verisimilitude; a representation, picture; [from] sixteenth-century French vrai, true, and semblance.
– William Craigie’s New English Dictionary, 1928


To enchant, bewitch, fascinate. Adapted from Old French ensorceler.
– George Meredith’s The Shaving of Shagpat, 1856

Wonder if that book is in the library…


Pieces of linen put into the lower parts of a shirt to make that end wider than the other, to give vent, or room, for the haunch; the same [as] “gores.”
– John Mactaggart’s Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824

A triangular bit of linen.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

**A short note: I’ll be going out of town for a few days, but I’m going to try to still put up the word of the day each day. Wish me luck.


Music that is written, or noted, with dots or points; so called from the points and dots with which it is noted down.



In a silly manner; foolishly.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

That just sounds like poor English, doesn’t it?

man of whipcord

A coachman.
– Albert Hyamson’s Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

Happy Feast Day of St. Richard of Chichester! He was a 13th-century patron of coachmen.


This is an opportunist who changes loyalties depending on who is in power and who can benefit him most. Not an obsolete word.

It comes from the Duke of Saxony during the Thirty Years’ War. His allegiances changed so often that this fable was told. The duke’s land was situated between French and Spanish holdings and served as a battleground between the two. The duke had a reversible coat and when things were going well for Spain, he showed their color of blue. When things went well for France, he showed the French color white.


An idle whim; a childish fancy. Connected, no doubt, with…nonny, to trifle, to play the fool. A young woman who received a serious injury from an accidental blow said it happened when she was nonnying. Indeed, it is chiefly applied to the fondling and toying of sweethearts, and when the fair one is coy and cries, “be quiet, you shan’t &c.” It may be conceived to come from the French nenni [“no, no, not at all”].
-Rev. Robert Forby’s Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830

[&c means et cetera (etc.), which means and so on, and so forth.]


Friday, March 31, 2006

Potatoes. A phrase perhaps derived from the term ‘Irish fruit,’ which by some peculiarity has been applied to potatoes, for even the most ignorant Cockney could hardly believe that potatoes grow in a bog. As, however, the majority of the lower classes of London do believe that potatoes were indigenous to, and were first brought from the soil of Ireland….they may even believe that potatoes are actually bog-oranges.
– John Camden Hotten’s Slang Dictionary, 1887


This is someone who has no faith and no religion.


A hospital for orphans.
– Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828


The fear of pigeons.

What would fear of albatross be? Goonyphobia.


To stare or look at any person in an impertinent manner is termed yorking; to york anything, in a common sense, is to view, look at, or examine. A flash-cove [thief] observing another person who appears to notice or scrutinize him, his proceedings, or the company he is with, will say to his pals, “That cove is yorking as strong as a horse. ”
– James Hardy Vaux’s Vocabulary of the Flash Language, 1812

[Flash is the slang of thieves and prostitutes.]

To come Yorkshire over any one, to cheat him.
– Capt. Francis Grose’s A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1796

Fun fact! St. Alkelda was an 8th-century Saxon princess who, as legend has it, might have also been a nun and was strangled by some pagan Viking women during a Danish raid. She is honored with a church in Giggleswick, Yorkshire; and also with a nearby holy well that is dedicated to those with visual impairments and those suffering from the effects of the “evil eye”.

give no quarter

The origin of this phrase goes back to 1629 when the Spaniards and the Dutch ended their Thirty Years’ War. In the peace treaty that they both signed, there was a provision for the release of prisoners. The agreement was that all officers and soldiers on both sides would be ransomed by their government for one quarter of their pay.

This disposition was very popular among the people. Two phrases came into being. To give quarter is to extend mercy. To give no quarter is to be merciless.


To play the actor.
– Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon, 1850


Mother-midnight is a midwife.

Roman holiday

Let’s have a phrase origin today! This one is not to be confused with the 1953 romantic comedy starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.

A Roman holiday is a violent public spectacle in which physical harm, degradation, and/or humiliation is inflicted for sadistic enjoyment. A destructive disturbance.

Before the rise of Rome, the nation of Etruria flourished in central Italy. The Etruscans and many of their practices were transplanted to Rome when the Romans conquered Etruria. One of the customs taken up by the Romans was that of honoring dead war heroes by sacrificing the lives of captives taken in battle. These human sacrifices were lavish social events for the Etruscans. For the Romans, they weren’t quite exciting enough, so they converted them to the gory public gladitorial contests we read about in history books.

The gladitorial bouts were enjoyed so much by the Romans that the days set aside for them were called Roman holidays.

square dinkham

True, straightforward, correct.
– Edward Fraser and John Gibbon’s Soldier and Sailor Glossary, 1925

On this date in history: 1839- O.K. makes its first appearance in print. It was facetiously used in the Boston Morning Post to mean “all correct” in a report on the Anti-Bell-Ringing Society, whose mission was to stop the clanging of dinner bells. In 1840, O.K. was a catchword used during President Martin Van Buren’s reelection campaign. Van Buren’s nickname was “Old Kinderhook” after his hometown in the Hudson River Valley of New York. He was not reelected. Woodrow Wilson, yet another president, was convinced that O.K. came from the Choctaw word okeh, meaning “it is so”. So convinced, apparently, that he wrote the word in that manner. As we all know, O.K. eventually made its way officially into the lexicon as both a noun and a verb. This Americanism has also found its way into many other languages.



box harry

To live in a poor manner, or on credit.
– Francis Taylor’s Folk-Speech of South Lancashire, 1901

To go without food. “I had no money, I could get nothing to eat, so I had to box-harry til I reached Liverpool.” Lancashire. To make a poor or coarse meal; to rough it; to take things as they are. “You must box Harry for your dinner today.” Warwickshire. …Hence, Boxharry-week, the blank week between pay-weeks when the workmen lived on credit or starved; East Lancashire. To hurry. “You’ll miss the train if you don’t box Harry and be off.” Worcestershire.
– Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary, 1896-1905


A popular name for bufonite, from the fact that it was formerly supposed to be a natural concretion found in the head of the common toad. Extraordinary virtues were attributed to it, [such as] protection against poison, and [it] was often set in rings. That this belief was rife in Shakespeare’s day is proved by the lines [from] As You Like It, “Sweet are the uses of adversity which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.”
– Robert Hunter’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1894

Bufonite is an old name for a fossil containing petrified teeth and palatal bones of fishes in the family Pycnodonts (thick teeth) whose remains are found in oolite and chalk formations.


The shock felt in bathing when one first plunges into the cold water.
– John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

Must come from the exclamation the Scots let out in such and event, “Curglaff, that’s cold!”


To go agatewards with anyone is to accompany him part of his way home, and was formerly the last office of hospitality towards a guest, frequently necessary even now for guidance and protection in some parts of the country. In Lincolnshire it is pronounced agatehouse, and in the North generally agaterds…. To get agate is to make a beginning of any work; to “be agate” is to be on the road, on the way, approaching towards the end.
– James Halliwell’s Dictionary of the Archaic and Provincial Words, 1855

“Will you go with me gattards?” Will you accompany me on my way home? Evans, in his Leicestershire Words, explains this to mean, gate-wards, toward the gate, but it is probably, as in the Craven dialect, gaitwards, to accompany.
– Thomas Sternberg’s Dialect and Folk-lore of Northamptonshire, 1851

p.s. Craven is in northern England.


Fourth from last.

Come on!

Really, what’s the point? Isn’t it just as easy to say fourth from last? No wonder it’s obsolete.

best man

Here’s something related to yesterday’s word, what it means to be the best man.

Nowadays, the best man serves primarily as the keeper of the ring and the arranger of the bachelor party. In the days of the knights [hey, that’s funny “days of the knights”], a wedding could be quite the dangerous affair. Weddings were often arranged much as business transactions, and the groom was not the bride’s first choice. The rival to the groom would, if he were the gallant type, try to carry off the bride before or during the wedding. Most ceremonies took place under the cover of night to avoid such an event. The groom would choose a best man who was a worthy warrior to defend him against any rivals that might discover and try to “crash” the wedding.

The best man, if he was smart, would enlist a group of ushers who were expert lancers to join him. Apparently, many of the old feudal style churches would store lances with torch sockets behind the altar. The lances were used for defense and for light during a getaway. Only the bravest of the brave would volunteer to attend a groom at his wedding, and the best man was the best among them. If he failed to fight down any rivals, the groom would lose his bride and perhaps his life.


Not an obsolete word, but did you ever wonder where it came from?

According to Common Phrases by John Mordock and Myron Korach, the first recorded data concerning the “honeymoon” is from the early writings of the Northern European countries. Newlyweds were required to drink a wine made from fermented honey and water called metheglin [also known as spiced mead]. They were required to drink metheglin for an entire moon [from one full moon to the next, about 30 days] after their wedding in order to furnish them with “sufficient sweetness to carry out their marriage vows in perpetuity.”

Apparently some newlyweds overdid it. The story goes that is how Attila the Hun died. Not in glorious battle, but by drinking himself to death at his wedding feast.


One skilled in fluxions…[I should just stop right there and keep you guessing.]

One skilled in fluxions…the analysis of infinitely small variable quantities, or a method of finding an infinitely small quantity which, being taken an infinite number of times, becomes equal to a quantity given.
– Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828

I say to Noah, “Aroo?”

Maybe this will clear it up, from Edward Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895:
A method of calculation resulting from the operation of fluents, or flowing numbers….The first elementary treatise on fluxions published in England was by John Harris in 1702. A description of the process by Newton himself followed in 1704 in his Quadrature of Curves….While the term fluxions is now scarcely ever used, that of differential calculus is in common use.


I find many (not all) of my daily words from a desktop calendar of Forgotten English compiled by Jeffrey Kacirk. Today, he reminds us of the birthday of Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Einstein’s wife was asked if she understood her husband’s Theory of Relativity. Her response: “No, but I know Albert, and I know he can be trusted.” Perfect.



One with a tail. An opprobrious epithet found on a legend told first of St. Augustine at Dorchester, and later of Thomas a Becket in Kent, in which the people of these places were said to be cursed with tails for indignities done by attaching a tail to these holy men. On the continent, tails used to be ascribed to Englishmen generally.
– Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, 1919

TALLIE DAY!! In Deeside, Scotland, it was once customary to mock one’s betters on this day by quietly attaching a tail to the seat of their pants.

Those kooky Scots.

raining cats and dogs

In Teutonic myth, the wind was a huge dog that was the chief attendant to Odin, the Norse god responsible for all the cosmos. The Teutons believed that when it rained very hard, Odin’s dog, in the form of wind, was chasing a cat in the form of rain. Therefore, a very hard downpour was Odin dropping cats and dogs from the heavens.


A sort of apple, called in French deux-annees, or deux-ans, because it will keep two years, and considered to be in perfection when shrivelled and withered. We retain the name, but whether we mean the same variety of fruit which was so called in Shakespeare’s time, it is not possible to ascertain. Probably we do not.
– Rev. Robert Forby’s Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830

Today is the “probable birthday” of John Chapman (1774-1845), America’s unofficial patron of apple orchardists. Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, began planting and tending his apple trees along the Ohio River in 1806.


A blushing for shame; an uneasiness of mind…for fear of loss of reputation.
-Nathaniel Bailey’s Etymological English Dictionary, 1749

Did you know that in the mid-1600’s during Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan-dominated government, a new “holiday” was instituted. The Day of Public Humiliation was a day for the Puritans to engage in all sorts of humiliating activities.

Those kooky Puritans!

I tried (briefly) to find more information on The Day, but didn’t find anything about a specific date. However, the Congress of the Confederate States also instituted their own Day of Public Humiliation, which was first “celebrated” on April 8, 1864.

I say every day is just fine for humiliating oneself publicly. Why not?

Stepney wheel

This Stepney wheel is an ordinary [automobile] wheel, fitted with flanges to fix on to the existing wheel, and carries a tyre already pumped up, and can be affixed to your car in less than ten minutes….[It] should have the place of honour on a woman’s car.
-Dorothy Levitt’s The Woman and the Car, 1909

Oh, NO she di’int!

Dorothy also offered tips to the female motorist for maintaining appearance amid mechanical troubles. She suggested non-legged, skirt-style overalls. They should “be made of butcher-blue or brown linen, to fasten at the back – the same shape as the artist’s overall….You can always slip off your coat and put on the overall in a moment, and it is necessary if you have anything to do in the car. Remember, it is better to get grease spots on your washable overall than on your coat.”

Wow. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since Dorothy’s day. Thank goodness! I wouldn’t be caught dead in a butcher blue skirt overall. And I can change a tire in less than 5 minutes. With no fancy flanges or nothin’!

be blowed

You be blowed, or you go and be blowed, a vulgar form of refusal or dismissal, probably has a still allusion underlying it, that of being “fly-blown,” or rotting – that is, dying.
-A. Wallace’s Popular Sayings Dissected, 1895

I don’t know. I don’t think this saying is as obsolete as some may think it is. Although the current phraseology has changed just a little bit.

I’m just sayin’…


An authority upon the spine or back-bone.
-William Craigie’s New English Dictionary, 1928


Oh, I like this one!

Having an inactive brain, thought to be from eating too much beef.
-John Phin’s Shakespeare Cyclopaedia and Glossary, 1902

buckle down to work

Phrase origin today! This phrase means to do a job seriously and well. Sometimes it can imply a heroic effort. It comes from the days of the knights.

Before a battle, a knight would have his squire get his suit of armor prepared. The squire would oil up the armor and then attach it to his master’s body using buckles. The buckling was an extremely important task because the effectiveness of the armor could mean the difference between life and death for the knight.

quaker’s bargain

A yea-or-nay bargain; a take-it-or-leave-it transaction.
-John Farmer and W.E. Henley’s Slang and Its Analogues, 1890-1904

go to the dickens

The origin of this phrase has nothing to do with Charles Dickens, but rather the early Scots. One of the common beliefs in those days was in evil spirits. The Scots believed in big devils and little devils. The little devils were known as daikins. When aroused to anger, an old Scot might curse his enemy with “Go to the daikins!” Over time, daikins turned into dickens.


That may be rendered into English.
-John Ogilvie’s Comprehensive English Dictionary, 1865

We are amused by this word. I guess you really can just slap an -able on just about any word… no matter how crazy it sounds. How amuseable English can be!


This is theater slang for dancing.

This put me in mind of another slang word, fingersmith, meaning pickpocket.

I’m going to become a slangsmith.


Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A thin, circular pudding, made of flour and water, put into the pot while the other contents are cooking.
-W.H. Long’s Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect, 1886


Woad is me!

Means mad, furious. It is from the Saxon word wod meaning insane.

[Oh, and by the way, the actual lament is “woe is me”. I was making a pun. Har har. Just so we are clear.]

don’t care a jot

An expression of contempt without resorting to swearing. This mild oath has been in existence for as long as the Hebrew and Greek alphabets have been.

The smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet is the yod, and in the Greek alphabet it’s the iota. The English word jot, meaning particle, is derived from the Hebrew yod and Greek iota. These letters are made with a small flourish, like their counterpart, the Roman letter i. By referring to the smallest letter in their alphabets, the ancient Hebrews and Greeks originated the phrase to signal disdain.

dish up the spurs

To hint to guests that it is time to depart. The custom arose in the English-Scotch borderlands when provisions ran out, for a pair of spurs to be sent to table as a hint that a raid for provisions was desirable.
-Albert Hyamson’s Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

Gonna have to get me some spurs…

face the music

Today we are entertaining the phrase face the music. It refers to confronting an unpleasant situation, often involving someone we have wronged.

There are a couple theories as to the origin of this phrase. During wars in the “old days”, when the troops were going into battle, the band was at the front of the line. They played martial tunes while the lines formed. The command just before “forward march” was “face the music.”

Another possible origin of this phrase also comes from the military. When a soldier is drummed out of the service, the entire company stands as witness while the drums roll to the tune of the “Rogue’s March.”


Pride, boasting, presumption.
-Edward Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895

This is from the Old French word, bobance, meaning arrogance or pomp.

No further comment.


A sort of bath for the feet.
-Stephen Blanchard’s Physical Dictionary, 1702

This reminds me of a trivia question that was once presented at the local Caribou Coffee. My friends know I love my lattes, and Caribou is one of my favorite shops. They have a daily trivia question worth 10 cents off your purchase if you get it right. Not a lot, but it is all in fun.

One day the question was: what part of the human body is the one people say that they most often do NOT wash at all? The answer was the feet. My disgusted reaction was one shared by the barista…or baristo…or whateveryoucallhim… coffee-making-guy. He said that the people coming in and answering that question correctly generally said that they also never washed their feet. Their thinking is that in the shower, your feet are getting wet and soapy from rinsing the rest of the body during the entire shower, why take the time to actually wash the feet specifically?

Ugh. I don’t even want to think about that any longer.


The expression of applause by stamping the feet.
-Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary, 1896-1905


A preface, or the first place or turn in speaking; also, a term which stage-players use, by them called their “cue.”
-Thomas Blount’s Glossographia, 1656


This word comes courtesy of my brother. It is a word that he remembers from grade school, which is a bit surprising since it was a while ago… not quite as long ago as as mine, but….

This is not an obsolete word, but I don’t think it is used very often. I love that there is such a word.

It comes from the Latin de, meaning out of and fenestra, meaning window. Defenestrate means to throw someone or something through or out a window.

I was surprised there was a word for this act! Perhaps it was a thing that happened often back in Roman times, thereby warranting its own specific term.

sheep dumplings

It’s exactly what you are thinking it is!

Sheep manure. Sheep dumplings are used in the home treatment of measles and certain other ailments. Ozarks.
-Vance Randolph, Down in the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech, 1953

Did you know, St. Bernadette is the patroness of shepherds? Apparently, her patronage grew out of the act of penance she was assigned during a vision: to eat grass as the sheep do to atone for the world’s sins.

Whatever happened to a few “Hail Mary’s”?


Purification; a sacrifice.

Apparently this has something do with a Roman purification festival held in February.


Ill-tempered; quarrelsome; irritable.
-T. Ellwood Zell’s Popular Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Language, 1871

What a great word! I need more words to describe myself.


To chew or nibble into small pieces. Books and papers are often chalmed by mice, if they can get to them. The letter l is dropped in pronunciation.
-Rev. Robert Forby’s Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830

Let’s use it in a sentence! Poor Marvin, having fashioned a trench coat out of cheese cloth, was chalmed to death by rats.


The feminine version of lad. It was later shrunk to its current state, lass.

I guess it is rather like dude and dudette. Perhaps one day we will say simply dude and ette.


From the Old Latin manis, meaning good. Benevolent spirits of the dead, especially of dead ancestors. They are regarded as family deities and protectors.

Apparently, the ancient Romans were really in to “the dead”. They had a weeklong purification ritual called Parentalia. On the first day of Parentalia, they paid tribute to their dead parents and relatives.

Another feature of Parentalia involved legumes. Peas and beans had symbolic and sacred characteristics. According to Plutarch, beans were regarded by the Greeks and Romans as potent tools in the invocation of the manes. Beans were thought to contain the souls of the dead.

Innnnteresting. Is this why my brother hates beans? Or why they are so low in fat?


Let’s have a word origin today.

I didn’t realize that the term deadhead has been used throughout the ages by the entertainment world to refer to people who gain admission for free. Of course, in the most recent past, it has become the name for the most loyal Grateful Dead fans. My landscaper friends use the term for the task of removing the dead flowers from plants.

The term dates way, way back. Archaeologists have found tiny ivory skulls from the ruins of Pompeii. These little skulls were used as passes for free admission to the theater.


Pickpockets who practise in churches. [From] autum, a church and diver, a pickpocket.
-George Matsell’s Vocabulum, or The Rogue’s Lexicon, 1859


A confirmed drunkard, a slave to the bottle; [from] thrall, a slave.
-Charles Mackay’s Lost Beauties of the English Language, 1874

Hmm, an amaretto sour sounds good right about now…


A fine frame-saw for sawing off portions of the teeth; used by dentists.
-Edward Knight’s Practical Dictionary of Mechanics, 1874-77


Fun fact: St. Apollonia is the patroness of toothache sufferers.

Is there a saint for everything?

apple of my eye

The folks back in the ninth century believed that the pupil of the eye was a vital spot in the human anatomy. The healers of the time studied the pupil closely to satisfy their medical curiosity. They concluded that it was apple shaped and became known as “the apple of the eye.” Because the pupil was considered so important, even as vital as life itself, it became customary for the gallant hero to call his sweety “the apple of my eye.”

When I was about 5 years old, there was an nice old lady that lived down the street. I remember one day she called me the apple of her eye. I had no idea what that meant. It was years and years later that I realized it was a compliment.


The English that is used in the United States.
-Maurice Weseen’s A Dictionary of American Slang, 1934

That, my friends, is the polite word…


The phonetically natural and philologically logical shortening of am not, especially in a’n’t I?… Amn’t is ugly; ain’t is illiterate and, on other grounds, inferior to a’n’t. Note that a’n’t I offers only two different stresses of emphasis, whereas am I not affords three.
-Eric Partridge’s Book of Usage and Abusage, 1954


It is Super Bowl Sunday today. Therefore, we are entertaining a “guest word” from the biggest football fan that I know. Friend Mitra, this one’s for you…

Feckless isn’t really an obsolete word, but it does seem to have fallen out of favor. And it’s such a great word! It means weak, ineffective, worthless, irresponsible. It comes from the Scottish word feck or fek, meaning effect, value.

Go Browns! What? They aren’t in the Super Bowl?

gled’s claws

We say of anything that has got into greedy keeping that it has “got into the gled’s claws,” where it will be kept until it be savagely devoured.
-John Mactaggart’s Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824

Took some searching to find what the gled was. A gled is a common European kite, a raptorial bird, such as the hawk or falcon. Gled has sometimes been applied as a name for the buzzard.

dog days of Summer

This phrase, referring to the hottest days of summer, came from the Romans. They called it canicula res dies which translates to “the dog days”.

The Romans believed that Sirius (the dog star), the brightest star in the sky during the period from about July 3 to August 11, rose daily with the sun. The intense heat during this time was attributed to the sun and the dog star both shining brightly.

Sirius earned its nickname “the dog star” because it is the brightest member of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog, which represents Orion’s hunting dog. Apparently, Sirius comes from the Greek seirios, meaning searing or scorching.

sour milk session

To be a disgrace with a person is to get into the Court of Sour Milk session; Yorkshire.
-Samuel Pegge’s Supplement to Groses’s Provincial Glossary, 1814

Here’s some fun advice about milk from Tobias Venner, from his Via Recta: The Right Way of Living (1650). (The spelling is his.)

“Milk that is kept till it wax somwhat sowre is not unto all bodies hurtfull…. But you must abstain, after the drinking of milk, from other meats and drinks, or any violent stirring of the body untill it shall be digested in the stomack, which in an houre’s space may be well effected. Neither may you sleep within an houre after the taking of it because it will make the head heavie by repleating it with vapors. And whosoever shall drink milk, because it is hurtfull to the gummes and teeth,…must have speciall regard to wash his mouth presently after the drinking of it with wine or strong beer, and also to rub the teeth and gummes with a dry cloth, for the cleaning away of the sliminess of the milk.”

So say we all!


Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A marriagable maid; Norfolk.
– Captain Francis Grose’s Provincial Glossary, 1811


Walking and smoking a pipe.
– John Mactaggart’s Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824


A condition of adolescent silliness.

Nice to be able to put a name to it. Hello. My name is The Scribbler and I’m a Hebephrenic.


Pertaining to the new moon. It comes from the Latin novus meaning new, and luno meaning moon.


Means to take by assault, to overcome, to vanquish.

It is what is referred to as a “portmanteau word”, two words interwoven to make a new word. In this case, it is apparently the blend of expunge (to strike out, destroy, obliterate) and impugn (to assail by words or arguments; to attack as false).

Here’s a portmanteau word you might know: chortle. It was coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871). It’s a combination of chuckle and snort.

Now you know.


Another fun one!!

A low rumbling sound; hence, the motion of the bowels, produced by flatulence, attended by such a sound; borborygmus; Scotch.
-William Whitney’s Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, 1889

Murmuring, grumbling; sometimes applied to that motion of the intestines which is produced by slight gripes. This is one of those rhythmical sort of terms for which our ancestors had a peculiar predilection. It is compounded of Suio-Gothic (the ancient language of Sweden) kurr-a, to murmur.
-John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

Fun facts! St. Timothy is a protector of people with intestinal ailments. H.L. Mencken, American journalist and linguist, playfully suggested the term flatuoso for someone plagued by flatulence.


Not to be confused with wretchedness, which means either to be distressed in mind or body, or extremely bad or distressing. As in: “He was in wretched health”; or “he had a wretched accident”.

Eliezer Edward (Words, Facts, and Phrases: A Dictionary of Curious Matters, 1882) had this to say about wretchlessness:

This word occurs in the seventeenth article of the Church of England. It is quoted by John Earle in his Philology of the English Tongue [1873] as a curious instance of the change of form in words. He says, “To understand this word we have only to look at it when divested of its initial w, and then to remember than an ancient Saxon c at the end of a syllable commonly developed into tch. In this way, we get back to the verb to reck, so that wretchlessness really means recklessness, or caring for nothing, although the words look so unalike.”

Those kooky Saxons.

California widow

A married woman whose husband is away from her for any extended period; a “grass widow” in the least offensive sense of that term. The expression dates from the period of the California “gold fever”, when so many men went West, leaving their wives and families behind them.
-John Farmer’s Americanisms Old and New, 1889

A “grass widow” is a woman who is divorced or separated from her husband, or one whose husband is temporarily away. The term can also apply to an abandoned mistress or a woman with a child out of wedlock. Apparently the “offensiveness” of the term comes from the mistress part of the definition.

The origin of grass widow is unclear. Some sources suggest it comes from references to an abandoned lover being put out to pasture, or out to grass. Others theorize that it’s slang from the British Raj for wives sent away during the hot summer to cooler and greener hill stations while their husbands remained on duty in the plains. (Perhaps some of those wives “hooked up” while away in the hills? That activity could have earned this phrase the offensiveness that John Farmer refers to.) Another theory is that the phrase is suggestive of clandestine lovemaking out in the fields rather than indoors, or the straw in the barn used for an illicit encounter.

Whatever the origin of grass widow, if you use it, better be careful who you use it with. Might be best to stick with California widow. Sounds nicer.


The kind of pick-pick [fish from whose bones flesh is easily removed] that is caught further out to sea than the ordinary one.
Alan Ross’s The Pitcairnese Language, 1964

I like this one! Reminds me of when I lived in Hawaii.

Fletcher Christian and his nine fellow mutineers from the HMS Bounty landed on Pitcairn Island and burned their ship on January 23, 1790. They “mingled” with the locals and were fruitful and multiplied. By 1937, there were more than 200 descendants; by 2002, only about 50 were left. Apparently, the Pitcairnese language contains carry overs from the early mutineers.

The word musket refers to any rifle or handgun. Breakfast is the word for lunch. The word English, when used as an adjective, means fastidious. Some of their Pidgin English words include wipe-feet for a doormat, and hilly-hilly to describe a choppy sea.

Some place names on Pitcairn Island are named for specific incidents, such as Down-under-Johnny-fall. A mutineer’s son fell here while collecting birds eggs in 1814. And there is a local fish called a Frederick, named for the first man that caught one.

sixes and sevens

A phrase origin today, I think!

To be at sixes and sevens means to have the odds against you or you are confused and handicapped by a severe hazard.

The phrase comes from the early Mystics who attached great importance to number combinations. The number 13 is the most unlucky. Six and seven add up to thirteen, so sixes and sevens are extremely unfavorable.

In backgammon, being at sixes and sevens means to be playing with the odds against you. Apparently, the chance of throwing sixes and sevens in backgammon is more likely than any other number.

Sewing needles also come into play with this phrase. When the sizes of needles were standardized by early manufacturers, sizes six and seven were the most popular. Because of the demand for these sizes, factory workers used the phrase to describe needles thrown together in confusion.

banyan days

Those in which no flesh-meat is issued to the messes. It is obvious that they are a remnant of the “maigre days” of the Roman Catholics, who deem it a mortal sin to eat flesh on certain days. Stock-fish used to be served out till it was found to promote scurvy. The term is derived from a religious sect in the East who, believing in metempsychosis [rebirth of the soul] eat of no creature endued with life.
-Admiral William Smyth’s Sailor’s Word-book, 1867

Hmm. After very brief research, I think the Eastern religious sect Admiral Smyth refers to here is either Hinduism or Buddhism. Among other things, they both hold the banyan tree sacred; and both religions have historically practiced vegetarianism.

Both believe in metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls; which, by the way, differs from reincarnation. You don’t say, you say? Metempsychosis is the transmigration of the human soul to another body, be it human, animal, or inanimate. Reincarnation holds that man is an evolving being developing through repeated human embodiments.

Well, what do you know? I just found another dictionary that lists a definition of banyan as “a Hindu trading caste who eat no meat”. Guess that answers that!

And, maigre means not containing meat or its juices. Just being thorough, you know.

Oh, the places we’ll go! (Apologies to Dr. Seuss.)


A mixture of morphine and cocaine injected subcutaneously.
-Maurice Weseen’s A Dictionary of American Slang, 1934

I always thought whizz-bang meant great, wonderful, fantastic. As in, “What a whizz-bang idea!”

Look at that! Whizbang is in the contemporary dictionary and means “conspicuous for noise, speed, excellence, or startling effect”. Now we know.


An adulterer; libertine (one who is unconstrained by convention or morality).

Should I laugh that this word comes from the French holier?


An interjection used to express astonishment.

SCROGGINS!!! Why don’t we use this word anymore?


Newly invented.

Today’s word is in honor of American Renaissance man, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), who would be 300 years old today. And looking good, Ben!

Check out today’s entry regarding Friend Ben on my other blog: Den of the Innocuous.

armed to the teeth

This phrase is one of many I’ve found that we owe to the pirates. It means to be so completely fortified that nothing more can be added.

When pirates were prepared for a fight, they had loaded guns all in each hand and in all their pockets. Guns were only capable of a single shot in these days; so rather than waste time reloading, it was best to carry as many loaded guns as possible. The well-armed pirate also had knives in his headwear and one clenched in his teeth. The latter being the last place available for the pirate to carry a weapon.

pin money

This site is becoming about a little more than just obsolete English. It is turning into anything that I find interesting concerning language. This includes the obsolete and the obscure, and now and then words and phrases with interesting origins.

The origin of the phrase “pin money” is one I found interesting. Pin money is money set aside, typically for the “housewife”, to meet her needs and desires.

It seems that in the early 20th century, pins were quite valuable and were only sold 2 days a year, January 1 and 2. They commanded a high price. The money that a husband gave his wife to buy pins was a large enough sum to earn its own term: “pin money”. In England, the wife often included a clause in the marriage contract giving her a lien on the rents that were collected from her husband’s lands. It was called the “Pin-Money Charge” and was enforced by the courts as a valid contractual right.

Of course, as the production of pins increased, their value decreased. But “pin money” remains in the lexicon to describe the money given by a husband to his wife for her own use.


Floating pieces of ice, or weak ice, which bend under one as he passes from one cake to another. Boys take great pleasure in this precarious amusement.
-William Craigie and James Hulbert’s Dictionary of American English, 1940

I saw an interesting television show the other day. It was called Iceberg Cowboys or something like that. An Ice Patrol went into effect in 1913 for the North Atlantic. Why? Because the Titanic was sunk by an iceberg in the North Atlantic in 1912. Apparently folks decided that it should not happen again. So, to this day, a patrol is flown daily to sight ‘bergs. Current technology has added satellite tracking to the Ice Patrol’s arsenal.

If a large, potentially deadly iceberg is sighted and it’s moving toward shipping lanes or offshore oil platforms, the iceberg wranglers are notified. These sailors take their big boat out and attempt to get a rope around the iceberg to change its course. They need to be careful so they don’t sink themselves, or break up the iceberg into several smaller but still deadly chunks. They also try using their propeller wash or water cannons to deflect the icebergs if they can’t lasso it.

If all else fails, as in the show I watched, they hauled up all the anchors on the oil platform that was in the way of one iceberg and moved the platform! Good thing they had quite a bit of warning, because that activity took them about 3 days, including down time due to heavy seas.

Who knew?


A dried hemp stalk used by smokers to light their pipes.
-Capt. Francis Grose’s Provincial Glossary, 1811


A glutton.

I can’t understand why no one uses this word anymore.

The interesting thing is my dad makes a particular hamburger/macaroni/corn/tomato sauce casserole that he calls “slumgullion”.

HA! Slumgullion is in the dictionary; it is a meat stew. The etymology of the word is interesting: perhaps from slum, meaning slime and gullion, meaning mud or cesspool. Mmmmmm, yummy!


A reception given by newly married couples upon return from their honeymoon.
-John Farmer’s Americanisms Old and New, 1889

Any excuse to par-tay…


This is another word for something that you may not have known the name of. This word is the name of the # symbol on telephones and keyboards.

I always thought it was just called “the number sign” (the official ANSI/CCITT name) or “the pound sign” (USA only).

“Octothorpe” was allegedly created in the 1960’s by engineer Don Macpherson who worked for Bell Labs . It is said that he combined the word “octo”, meaning eight (8 endpoints on the symbol), with the name of his favorite athlete, Jim Thorpe. Apparently, there are several other alleged origins of the term. Who knows.

The British call the symbol “the square”. So practical, those Brits.


To silently watch someone while they are eating, hoping to be invited to join them.

And here all this time I thought I was mooching, not groaking…

jarns, nittles, grawlix, and quimp

Okay, these aren’t obsolete words, but they are names of something you probably never thought had names. These are the various squiggles and symbols used to denote cursing in the comics.

From what I can find, these words were coined by Mort Walker. If you don’t know who he is, you obviously don’t read the funny papers. Too bad for you.


A form of magic lantern invented in America, the first to employ a two-wicked paraffin lamp. Since its introduction, three, four, and five wicks have been employed.
-Edward Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895


Food or drink that makes one idle and stupid; food with no nutritional value, junk food.

-Homer Simpson, 2005

blackthorn winter

Cold weather, when the blackthorn is in blossom.
-Albert Hyamson’s Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

whole boiling

The whole boiling means the entire quantity or whole party.

-John Brockett’s Glossary of North Country Words, 1825

Saucepan is on the fire

Means to be ready to scold someone.


A dish made of rabbits, fowl, etc., in a crust of forced [stuffed] meat.
-Walter Skeat’s Glossary of Tudor and Stuart Words, 1914

To make a pulpatoon of pigeons…half roast six or eight pigeons, and lay them in a crust of forc’d meat…Scrape a pound of veal, and two pounds of marrow, and beat it together in a stone mortar.
-Eliza Smith’s Compleat Housewife, 1758


A hasty tidying of the house between the time you see a neighbor and the time she knocks on the door.
-John Gould’s Maine Lingo: Boiled Owls, Billdads, and Wazzats, 1975


Thanks to obsoleteword.blogspot.com

Nocturnal primate - dumb as I am now it used to be worse.

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One comment on “Wordsmithery
  1. […] check out these sources: Stack Exchange, Words and Phrases from the Past, English Rules, and Pierwiastek Zła. The photo came from […]

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