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 1, 2016

Eight uncommon words


Eight uncommon words

English is jam-packed with oddities. Here is a smattering I find entertaining. I hope you will, too.

Unmarried couples of Essex in the 1200s who had lived together for a year and a day without arguing could be awarded a flitch. Flitch showed up in English a few years beforehand & refers to a side of bacon.

A Dutch word meaning property made its way into English in 1833 meaning crowd (because?) By 1858 it meant counterfeit money (ahem). That word is boodle, now meaning counterfeit, a bribe, a crowd, or swag. Though we don’t often hear boodle going solo these days, it plays a role in the term kit & caboodle.

A cantle is a part or portion cut from something else. It came to English in the early 1300s through Old French from a Latin word meaning corner.

The word quincunx has been around since the 1640s. Quincunx translates in Latin to five twelfths & initially referred to planet alignment. Later, it picked up a monetary meaning (5/12 of the Roman unit of currency). In time, it was applied to the arrangement of five spades, diamonds, clubs or hearts on a playing card (which would make more sense to me if someone years ago had killed the kings, leaving queens as the highest – or twelfth – card).

In the 1700s the word chrestomathy was born. It referred to a collection of literary passages. It came through French & Latin from a Greek word meaning useful learning.

And don’t we all stay up at night wondering what to call the assemblage of pews in a church? A pewage, of course. Pewage can also be used to refer to the amount of money it takes to purchase the pews. Though pew came to English in the 1300s through Old French from Latin, no one is certain when pewage was born.

In 1819 the word tabagie was born through French & Spanish from tobacco, a Carribean (most likely Taino) word. A tabagie is a group of people who gather to smoke. One must wonder if a tabagie were to assemble in a pewage whether non-smokers might refer to the whole enchilada as a spewage.

And we’ll finish up thinking of those who choose to shave their chins & wear long sideburns. Such folks are sporting dundrearies. The term appeared in 1867 & comes from Lord Dundreary, the “witless, indolent” protagonist from Tom Taylor’s play, Our American Cousin.

Please click on comments below & let me know how many of these eight words were new to you.


Big thanks to friend Aaron Keating, for suggesting this week’s topic, & thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, Etymonline, & Collins Dictionary.

4 comments:

  1. You have indeed enlightened me today, Mr. Monger! I had heard of caboodles, of the sort that combine with kits, and, because I come from a family of clergypersons, I had heard of a "pewage" but only in jest. Quincunx I know because I spent some time studying astrology, but I didn't know it referred to playing cards. The rest are new to me. I'm especially pleased to hear about dundrearies. What a great word!

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    1. Wow. You must be some kind of writer or something. Thanks for coming by again.

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  2. Wow...now that was entertaining! I would love to use chrestomathy in a casual sentence someday. "I just read the most beautiful chrestomathy. I found it hidden amongst the pewage." Wouldn't that be impressive?

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    1. There very well may be a plethora of chrestomathies lurking amid the pewage!

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