Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tosspot Words

Tosspot Words

Though William Shakespeare often gets credit for coining the word tosspot, its first recorded use was in 1568, when Shakespeare was a mere four years old. The word means a lush, a drunkard or fool & hearkens back to the day when folk drank their ale or mead from pots. It seems a tosspot tossed back his or her pot, and was known for doing so a little too often.

A short time ago I ran into a second, more delicious usage of tosspot in the comments section of Anu Garg’s amazing AWAD (A Word A Day) listserv, in which Gregory M. Harris mentions the phenomenon of the tosspot word. Other than a referral back to his AWAD comment at Librarian’s Muse, I can find no other reference to this second meaning. Is the distinction real or imagined?

The proposed term tosspot word refers to the phenomenon of a compound word built of a verb, then a noun, in that order. Some examples include:


Big thanks to Gregory M. Harris who made the AWAD comment that got me interested in this phenomenon & inspired some happy pondering.

Should we embrace the existence of the tosspot word? Please use the comments section to vote yay or nay, or to lengthen the list, or to argue for why a word on the list doesn’t belong there, or...

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Librarian’s Muse, Etymonline. & A Word A Day


  1. Why not? Many of these words make perfect sense: by eating, one breaks one's fast. A scarecrow is set up to scare crows!

    Watchtower...well, it isn't the *tower* we're watching, and the tower certainly isn't doing the watching! Waitstaff I could argue with, but let's not quibble here.

  2. I adore tosspot words. Maybe it's my German ancestry. They love to combine strings of words into one huge mouthful. I've always liked the word tosspot, too, but I had no idea that's what it meant. I imagined somebody who tossed the contents of his chamberpot in ill-advised directions. This is slightly more hygienic.

  3. Hi Anne & Rachel6,
    Thanks once more for dropping by. Anne, I love the idea that a tosspot might have something to do with that wonderful invention, "gardyloo," but I suppose you are correct about hygiene. Rachel, "quibble" is another fine word that deserves some attention!

  4. The description tosspot word should be reserved for expressions constructed by combining a verb and a noun to indicate a person’s character.

    Apart from tosspot, other such words include killjoy, lickspittle, makebate, pinchgut, sawbones, scofflaw, smellfungus, telltale and turncoat.

    You dilute the term’s special meaning if you apply it to everyday words such as breakfast, campsite, driveway, flyway, playhouse, rattletrap, repairman, scarecrow, sharecropper, skateboard, waitstaff, washcloth, watchdog and watchtower.

  5. I see the value in limiting the definition to just descriptions of character, but wonder if that would limit the list of tosspot words to just a handful. What's the longest list we could come up with...would it exceed even 20?

    1. An interesting argument. It all hinges on one's chosen dictionary, I suppose.