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, June 9, 2016



In last week’s post we looked at words like shenanigans, meaning up to no good. This week’s words chronicle shenanigans of a kinder & goofier nature.

The word tomfoolery, meaning foolish trifling, appeared in English in 1812. It came from the 1640s noun tom-fool, which meant a buffoon or clown.

Since the 1580s, English speakers have been using the word frolic, originally meaning making merry. The verb frolic came from an older adjective meaning joyous or full of mirth, also spelled frolic, which comes from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning to hop.

Also in the 1580s the noun horseplay was born, meaning overly rough play. The term doesn’t actually refer to creatures of the equine variety, but refers instead a secondary meaning of horse, strong or coarse. Horseplay gave birth to a related term in 1793, horsing (to play excessive jokes on), and another, horsing around (to join in boisterous play), in 1928.

In the 1590s the verb caper was born. It originally meant a playful leap or jump. By 1600, one could cut capers, or dance in a frolicsome manner. Caper added the meaning prank in 1840 & the meaning crime in 1926. It appears caper came to English from the Italian word capriolare, to jump in the air.

Another way to say prank or caper is the American-born noun, dido. It generally appears in the idiom to cut didoes.

In 1709 the verb romp, meaning to play, sport or frolic appeared. By 1734 the noun romp showed up, meaning piece of lively play. In 1909 romp transformed to a word meaning small children’s overallsrompers. And those readers of a particular age will recall the children’s TV show, Romper Room, which first aired in 1953.

I’m hoping you’ve got something to say in the comments section about this etymological romp.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.


  1. I wonder if there was once an actual fool named Tom back in the misty days of yore, who perpetrated tomfoolery.

    But I'm disappointed to know that horseplay never involved horses. When I was a kid, I always imagined horses doing wild things when we weren't looking.

    Cutting didoes is a new one on me!

    1. Hi Anne - There was a Tom character of the theatrical nature who was portrayed as mentally deficient -- sad commentary I chose not to include in the post. And you never know with horses -- maybe when they're doing those wild things they use coarse language & that's why horse means coarse.

  2. Wow, so many fun and frolicking words! I've never heard of cutting didoes and I never thought about the meaning of "Romper Room". I don't remember a lot of romping going on, though. Mostly well behaved little ones sitting on the floor.

  3. Hi Christine - How true. In the '50s & '60s children were to be filmed but not heard. And even on Romper Room they were to sit & not romp.