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, February 5, 2015

Words from dialects

Words from dialects

In my world as an audiobook narrator, I occasionally find myself researching dialects, -- a rich source of words that are just plain fun.

A Scottish dialect gave us spree, a frolic or drinking bout, which came to English in 1804 (though drinking bouts had been around for centuries).

Throwing an intriguing light on JK Rowling’s enigmatic headmaster, the word dumbledore became a part of the language in 1787, from a dialect spoken in the Cornwall region. It means bumblebee.

A Kentucky dialect gave us splurge. Meaning ostentatious display, it came to English in 1828, possibly from a mashup of the words splash & surge.

From a dialect spoken near Norfolk, dumpling came to be officially a part of English in 1600. It may have come from a German word meaning lump.

 In 1738 we gained the word kasbah, which came to us through French from a dialect of north African Arabic. The original word meant fortress.

The Cockney dialect gave us ain’t. Well, sort of. In the early 1700s ain’t was considered a proper English contraction for am not. A century later, people started using ain’t to mean are not & is not, causing ain’t to lose favor among grammarians, oozing its way into the category of Cockney slang.

A northern British dialect gave us keister, or buttocks. This meaning arrived in 1914, extrapolated from earlier meanings of keister safe or strongbox, & burglar’s toolkit.

And the Scots have keisters, too. From a dialect of Scotland we have the word fud, meaning buttocks. It’s a mystery where fud came from, but it is most likely from a Scandinavian source. Fud entered English in 1785.

And though I’d planned on ending with keister & fud, I can’t resist yen, which came from a Beijing dialect. Yen originally meant smoke, then grew to mean intense desire for opium. Today yen means a dreamy desire or hunger. It arrived in English in 1906 after making earlier attempts in the forms of yen-yen & yin.

And on a note of shameless self-promotion, my fourteenth audiobook became available this week. Why Grandma Bought That Car  (Kotu Beach Press) is a collection of short stories & verses, each one focusing on a transformational moment in a woman’s life. The author is good friend, Anne R. Allen, & I enjoyed sharing narrating responsibilities with good friend Claire Vogel. I’m hoping some of you may take a listen.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Word Detective, Wordnik, Etymonline, & the OED.


  1. What treasures, Mr. Monger! I'd always wondered where the word "keister" came from. My mother considered it quite rude.

    Now isn't it funny that "booty" means treasure (sometimes kept in a strongbox) and has recently been repurposed to mean, um, keister.

    And now we know where Dumbldore's name came from! And perhaps Elmer Fud (d) ?

    I had no idea that a "yen" was originally a jonesing for opium. (And where does "jonesing" come from, do you suppose?)

    Thanks for the shout-out for Grandma's Car. And congrats on your 14th audiobook!

  2. Hey Anne - thanks for popping by once again, & for pondering words with me. I'll have to look into Jonesing & booty.

  3. I was fascinated by the progression of "yen". From a craving for opium to chocolate. And I was so surprised that Ms. Rowling did not manufacture "Dumbledore".

  4. Hi Christine - perhaps she DID manufacture Dumbledore's name separately from the bumblebee meaning, but chances are somewhat slim, eh?

  5. I shall henceforth call bumblebees "dumbledores." Love it. Kentuckians should be proud for giving the English-speaking world the word "splurge." So many would be at a loss for a word without it. To think that "ain't" used to be proper!! I love that too. I like Anne's theory about Elmer Fudd's surname. I look forward to enjoying the Anne's audiobook narrated by none other than my good friends C.S. Perryess and Claire Vogel.