Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Rarely sighted words #2

Rarely sighted words #2

Here’s a second installment of words we English speakers have mostly lost (the first installment can be found here). I think at least some of them deserve a rebirth.

A quodlibet was initially a topic up for philosophical discussion, though in time, the meaning morphed to mean a medley of well-known tunes. Either meaning works just fine for the word’s Latin source, which translates to what pleases you. I find myself envisioning a group of philosophers meeting at the pub & saying to the local musicians, “Strike up that quodlibet while we discuss our quodlibet!”

An inanimate item that is responsible for a person’s death is called a deodand. Back in the day, English law required the owner of the murderous object pay the grieving family in the amount of the value of the object. This seemed to work fine when the object was a length of rope, a pitchfork, a plough — but as soon as the industrial revolution kicked in & these expenses bumped up to the cost of a carpet-making loom, a steam engine, a train (& the payments had to be made by corporations that just might have had the ear of Parliament members), the law was abandoned.

Arfanarf is Cockney slang for half-and-half, but it does not refer to a dairy product. The term was used in the late 1800s & early 1900s to order up a drink that was half porter & half ale, or in some regions, a mixture of beer & whisky. Nothing like a little arfanarf to get the conversation flowing, eh? 

To be erumpent is to burst out of something. It’s related to interrupt, erupt & abrupt. It’s a rarely sighted word unless you happen to be a mycologist (a studier of mushrooms) — given the habits of mushrooms, mycologists use the term erumpent frequently & with gusto.

An embuggerance is a niggling or irritating barrier encountered when trying to solve a problem. The term was born in the British military some time around 1950. Though bugger in modern usage is sexual in nature, both terms come from a much older expression, “to bugger one about” — to irritate one.

So, do you have any quodlibets regarding all this, or do you find all this wordmongering to be an embuggerance? Please let me know in the comments section.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Dictionary of Slang & Euphemism, Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary, WorldWideWords,  & Wordnik,

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Rarely sighted words #1

Rarely sighted words #1

Here are some words that most English speakers have left behind. Which one(s) do you think might be worth the concerted effort to bring back into common usage?

Spiv is British slang from the 1930s. It’s most likely derived from the word spiffy. It means a flashily dressed petty crook who does anything to avoid honest work. A disproven - yet intriguing - folk etymology is that a spiv is the opposite of a Very Important Person, so the pluralized acronym (VIPs) was reversed to create the word spiv.

Sometime in the 1800s the word quockerwodger (or quocker-wodger) appeared in English. Its literal meaning refers to a wooden toy whose legs and arms are connected loosely to its body, so that any movement at all causes it to flap around. This meaning was quickly eclipsed by the word’s figurative meaning: a politician whose strings are clearly pulled by someone else.

About 1800 this French word made its way into English — gobemouche. It’s constructed of a word meaning housefly (mouche) & a word meaning swallow (gobe). This latter bit is related to words like gobsmacked & shut your gob! The word’s literal translation is flyswallower. A gobemouche is a painfully naive & gullible individualamazed by the world, & therefore standing around with his/her mouth wide open.

A word born in the 1960s among the historical re-enactment crowd is farb. A farb is a historical re-enactor whose efforts don’t come close to authentic.

Blivet showed up in American English in the 1940s. It originally referred to a useless, superfluous, or unnecessary object. In time, it came to refer to a self-important person.

And likely coming from the word nit is the word nitnoid. A nitnoid is either a person who crushes the life out of something through nitpicking detail, or the detail itself. This word appeared in American English in the 1900s.

A blatteroon is a person who boasts, blathers & babbles (often about him/herself). Blatteroon appeared in English in the 1600s from a Latin word meaning babbler.

So which one(s) of these deserves a rebirth? Please let me know in the comments section.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Oxford Reference Merriam Webster, WorldWideWords,  & Wordnik,

Thursday, August 16, 2018



Since I’m heading off to enjoy the joyous occasion of a niece’s wedding…

The word marriage showed up in English about 1300, meaning entry into wedlock. It came through Old French from Latin. The word marry showed up about the same time, meaning both to get married & to give one’s offspring into marriage. Interestingly, while the English word marry can be used to refer to both a male marrying & a female marrying, many languages require different marry verbs depending on gender, typically reflecting what I’d call antiquated sexist understandings of marriage.

Wedding appeared in Old English before the 1300s, & meant betrothal or act of marrying. It replaced the time-honored Old English word bridelope, which meant bridal run. Etymologists claim this word had to do with “conducting the bride to her new home,” though my imagination goes elsewhere. Wedding comes from the word wed, to pledge oneself or unite. It comes from a Proto-Germanic term which ended up meaning:
in Gothic: to betroth
in Old Frisian: to promise
in Old Norse, German, & Danish: to bet or wager 

Though one might think the word wedlock is a compound of wed + lock, that second part actually comes from the old English suffix, -lac, which meant actions or proceedings, suggesting a somewhat less limiting understanding of marriage.

The word matrimony acknowledges that some weddings might be a tad rushed. Arriving in English about 1300, matrimony is made up of two Latin word parts, this first meaning mother & the second meaning state or condition. Hmm.

And big thanks to Etymonline for introducing me to George Bernard Shaw’s snarky take on marriage:

“(W)hen two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, & exhausting condition until death do them part.”

Any thoughts on all these matrimonial words (or Shaw’s thoughts)?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Old Fogies

Old fogies

Here’s a bit of a Greg Brown song I’ve been appreciating these days:

I’m creaking and I’m moaning 
like an ok tree limb.
That strong young fellow, 
what happened to him?
I got bones, 
old bones, 
stiff old bones

I suppose that appreciating such lyrics puts me in the old fogey category.

Fogey (sometimes fogy) appeared in English in the 1780s, and etymologists (some of them, bona fide old fogies) haven’t nailed down its roots. Fogey may have come from a Scottish word meaning Army pensioner, or from any number of English terms — one meaning mossy, another meaning bloated, or the English word fogram, meaning old-fashioned.

Codger appeared in English in 1756, meaning an old, eccentric, miserly man. It most likely came from the word cadger, which means beggar.

A term for an old, incompetent person is duffer. This word showed up in English in the mid-1800s. It may have its roots in the slang term duff worthless or fake, or in a Scottish word meaning dull or stupid person, which was derived from a pejorative English word for deaf. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that duffer had anything to do with the game of golf.

Geezer came to English in 1885, a Cockney version of the -guise part of disguise. The word geezer originally referred to a mummer (a masked actor performing pantomime). Etymologists assume the word’s modern meaning occurred due to the silent nature of pantomime reflecting the silent nature of some of us geezers.

A fuddy-duddy can — by definition — be young, but is most decidedly old-fashioned. It appears to have come from the late 1800s American English term duddy fuddiel, a term that referred to a ragged fellow. Other variations include fuddydud, fuddie-duddie, & my personal favorite, fudbucket.

So, what do you fellow fudbuckets (or non-fudbuckets, I suppose), have to say about all these geezerly words? Let  me know in the comment section.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Metaphor as art

Metaphor as art

Please celebrate with me the art of the finely crafted metaphor.

Euphemisms are unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne.
Quentin Crisp

The seed of revolution is repression.
Woodrow Wilson

Sacred cows make very poor gladiators.
Nikki Giovanni

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.
Zora Neale Hurston

Life is a verb, not a noun.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.
Sholom Aleichem

Hate, in the long run, is about as nourishing as cyanide.
Kurt Vonnegut

You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.
Golda Meir

In Mexico, an air conditioner is called a “politician” because it makes a lot of noise but doesn’t work very well.
Len Deighton

You should never hesitate to trade your cow for a handful of magic beans.
Tom Robbins

Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
Maya Angelou

I’d love to hear which of these you’ve never heard before or which ones strike a chord for you. 

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: AZ Quotes,, & Mardy Grothe’s I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like.