Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lost Words

Lost words

I recently came upon a book my mom (known in the family as Muz) gave me in 1978. It’s devoted to words that had once lived happy lives, but in time, expired. Poplollies and Bellibones by Susan Kelz Sperling has brought me many a laugh over the years. This week’s post features several of her words whose existence and meaning I can confirm.

titivil – related to the word devil, a titivil was a knave or scoundrel. It appears the word initially referred to a very specific sort of scoundrel, a chap who listened so closely to other monks’ prayers he collected any mumbled words and phrases and informed the authorities. There is argument as to whether the titivil delivered this information to the monks’ earthly superiors or to less physically established authorities.

flerd – From the Old English word flaerd. Flerd is nonsense, deception, folly or superstition.

murfles – a synonym for freckles.

coverslut – an apron. Also an architectural structure built for the sole purpose of concealing some uglier structure underneath.

lickspigot – much like a brown-nose or bootlicker, a lickspigot acts in a subservient manner, fawning all over those in authority.

wink-a-peeps – eyes.

turngiddy – someone who has become dizzy due to spinning. Secondary meanings include vertigo, lighthearted, flighty & childish. The term comes from the Old English word gydig, which meant mad. Gydig appears to have come from the word God, as it was understood that someone who had gone mad had been possessed by a divine being. Hmmm.

Good readers, if you were kings or queens of the world, which of these words would you bring back into common usage?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: The OED, Etymonline, The Free Dictionary, The Times & The Mad Logophile, & Susan Kelz Sperling’s Poplollies & Bellibones – A Celebration of Lost Words


  1. These are all so marvelous. We need to bring them all back! I wonder what makes a word die? Who wouldn't rather have murfles than freckles? And I can't wait to tell some Internet idiot that he's talking a bunch of flerd. Thanks, Mr. Monger!

  2. I agree with Anne on "flerd". I also like "turngiddy" and "titivil." Any chance "titivil" is related to "tattletale"?

    But I must say, I'm quite happy "coverslut" has gone out of use.

  3. I think I might try wink-a-peeps on my grandsons. I'm on a new medication that makes me feel a bit turngiddy in the AM. I like it...turngiddy in the AM. Makes it sound kind of fun! Thanks for these. They are all wonderful.

  4. Hey Anne - Be careful flinging the flerd -- it can be dangerous!

  5. I love these words, even though they're dead, but then I do kill a lot of people in my books so why wouldn't I love dead words? My favs are flerd, muffles and lickspigot, though coverslut just tickles my funny bone, too. I have a feeling some of these might end up in the YA fantasy series I'm working on.., they're just so colorful. I can just hear my male protagonist calling someone a lickspigot, and flinging the flerd around with abandon... Good times!

  6. Hey Rachel6 -- it's been a while. Good to have you checking in. I hadn't thought of searching for dead words whose demise should please us, but I hear your argument regarding coverslut. Susan & Christine -- good to have you here, too. And I heartily endorse these words' inclusion in upcoming fitcion!

    1. I've been a faithful, albeit silent, reader! Don't worry, I don't abandon a good thing when I find it ;)

  7. Charlie, for me it has to be coverslut. Might even put it in one of my LGBT novellas. It's too good a word to waste. Murfles is pretty silly, too. Love these fun words.