Obsolete Word of the Day

If you share my enthusiasm for interesting words and phrases, give this blog a try! It's just for grins and giggles.

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I'm just trying to have some fun.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


A marriagable maid; Norfolk.
- Captain Francis Grose's Provincial Glossary, 1811

Monday, January 30, 2006


Walking and smoking a pipe.
- John Mactaggart's Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824

Sunday, January 29, 2006


A condition of adolescent silliness.

Nice to be able to put a name to it. Hello. My name is The Scribbler and I'm a Hebephrenic.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Pertaining to the new moon. It comes from the Latin novus meaning new, and luno meaning moon.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Means to take by assault, to overcome, to vanquish.

It is what is referred to as a "portmanteau word", two words interwoven to make a new word. In this case, it is apparently the blend of expunge (to strike out, destroy, obliterate) and impugn (to assail by words or arguments; to attack as false).

Here's a portmanteau word you might know: chortle. It was coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871). It's a combination of chuckle and snort.

Now you know.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Another fun one!!

A low rumbling sound; hence, the motion of the bowels, produced by flatulence, attended by such a sound; borborygmus; Scotch.
-William Whitney's Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, 1889

Murmuring, grumbling; sometimes applied to that motion of the intestines which is produced by slight gripes. This is one of those rhythmical sort of terms for which our ancestors had a peculiar predilection. It is compounded of Suio-Gothic (the ancient language of Sweden) kurr-a, to murmur.
-John Jamieson's Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

Fun facts! St. Timothy is a protector of people with intestinal ailments. H.L. Mencken, American journalist and linguist, playfully suggested the term flatuoso for someone plagued by flatulence.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Not to be confused with wretchedness, which means either to be distressed in mind or body, or extremely bad or distressing. As in: "He was in wretched health"; or "he had a wretched accident".

Eliezer Edward (Words, Facts, and Phrases: A Dictionary of Curious Matters, 1882) had this to say about wretchlessness:

This word occurs in the seventeenth article of the Church of England. It is quoted by John Earle in his Philology of the English Tongue [1873] as a curious instance of the change of form in words. He says, "To understand this word we have only to look at it when divested of its initial w, and then to remember than an ancient Saxon c at the end of a syllable commonly developed into tch. In this way, we get back to the verb to reck, so that wretchlessness really means recklessness, or caring for nothing, although the words look so unalike."

Those kooky Saxons.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

California widow

A married woman whose husband is away from her for any extended period; a "grass widow" in the least offensive sense of that term. The expression dates from the period of the California "gold fever", when so many men went West, leaving their wives and families behind them.
-John Farmer's Americanisms Old and New, 1889

A "grass widow" is a woman who is divorced or separated from her husband, or one whose husband is temporarily away. The term can also apply to an abandoned mistress or a woman with a child out of wedlock. Apparently the "offensiveness" of the term comes from the mistress part of the definition.

The origin of grass widow is unclear. Some sources suggest it comes from references to an abandoned lover being put out to pasture, or out to grass. Others theorize that it's slang from the British Raj for wives sent away during the hot summer to cooler and greener hill stations while their husbands remained on duty in the plains. (Perhaps some of those wives "hooked up" while away in the hills? That activity could have earned this phrase the offensiveness that John Farmer refers to.) Another theory is that the phrase is suggestive of clandestine lovemaking out in the fields rather than indoors, or the straw in the barn used for an illicit encounter.

Whatever the origin of grass widow, if you use it, better be careful who you use it with. Might be best to stick with California widow. Sounds nicer.

Monday, January 23, 2006


The kind of pick-pick [fish from whose bones flesh is easily removed] that is caught further out to sea than the ordinary one.
Alan Ross's The Pitcairnese Language, 1964

I like this one! Reminds me of when I lived in Hawaii.

Fletcher Christian and his nine fellow mutineers from the HMS Bounty landed on Pitcairn Island and burned their ship on January 23, 1790. They "mingled" with the locals and were fruitful and multiplied. By 1937, there were more than 200 descendants; by 2002, only about 50 were left. Apparently, the Pitcairnese language contains carry overs from the early mutineers.

The word musket refers to any rifle or handgun. Breakfast is the word for lunch. The word English, when used as an adjective, means fastidious. Some of their Pidgin English words include wipe-feet for a doormat, and hilly-hilly to describe a choppy sea.

Some place names on Pitcairn Island are named for specific incidents, such as Down-under-Johnny-fall. A mutineer's son fell here while collecting birds eggs in 1814. And there is a local fish called a Frederick, named for the first man that caught one.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

sixes and sevens

A phrase origin today, I think!

To be at sixes and sevens means to have the odds against you or you are confused and handicapped by a severe hazard.

The phrase comes from the early Mystics who attached great importance to number combinations. The number 13 is the most unlucky. Six and seven add up to thirteen, so sixes and sevens are extremely unfavorable.

In backgammon, being at sixes and sevens means to be playing with the odds against you. Apparently, the chance of throwing sixes and sevens in backgammon is more likely than any other number.

Sewing needles also come into play with this phrase. When the sizes of needles were standardized by early manufacturers, sizes six and seven were the most popular. Because of the demand for these sizes, factory workers used the phrase to describe needles thrown together in confusion.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

banyan days

Those in which no flesh-meat is issued to the messes. It is obvious that they are a remnant of the "maigre days" of the Roman Catholics, who deem it a mortal sin to eat flesh on certain days. Stock-fish used to be served out till it was found to promote scurvy. The term is derived from a religious sect in the East who, believing in metempsychosis [rebirth of the soul] eat of no creature endued with life.
-Admiral William Smyth's Sailor's Word-book, 1867

Hmm. After very brief research, I think the Eastern religious sect Admiral Smyth refers to here is either Hinduism or Buddhism. Among other things, they both hold the banyan tree sacred; and both religions have historically practiced vegetarianism.

Both believe in metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls; which, by the way, differs from reincarnation. You don't say, you say? Metempsychosis is the transmigration of the human soul to another body, be it human, animal, or inanimate. Reincarnation holds that man is an evolving being developing through repeated human embodiments.

Well, what do you know? I just found another dictionary that lists a definition of banyan as "a Hindu trading caste who eat no meat". Guess that answers that!

And, maigre means not containing meat or its juices. Just being thorough, you know.

Oh, the places we'll go! (Apologies to Dr. Seuss.)

Friday, January 20, 2006


A mixture of morphine and cocaine injected subcutaneously.
-Maurice Weseen's A Dictionary of American Slang, 1934

I always thought whizz-bang meant great, wonderful, fantastic. As in, "What a whizz-bang idea!"

Look at that! Whizbang is in the contemporary dictionary and means "conspicuous for noise, speed, excellence, or startling effect". Now we know.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


An adulterer; libertine (one who is unconstrained by convention or morality).

Should I laugh that this word comes from the French holier?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


An interjection used to express astonishment.

SCROGGINS!!! Why don't we use this word anymore?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Newly invented.

Today's word is in honor of American Renaissance man, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), who would be 300 years old today. And looking good, Ben!

Check out today's entry regarding Friend Ben on my other blog: Den of the Innocuous.

Monday, January 16, 2006

armed to the teeth

This phrase is one of many I've found that we owe to the pirates. It means to be so completely fortified that nothing more can be added.

When pirates were prepared for a fight, they had loaded guns all in each hand and in all their pockets. Guns were only capable of a single shot in these days; so rather than waste time reloading, it was best to carry as many loaded guns as possible. The well-armed pirate also had knives in his headwear and one clenched in his teeth. The latter being the last place available for the pirate to carry a weapon.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

pin money

This site is becoming about a little more than just obsolete English. It is turning into anything that I find interesting concerning language. This includes the obsolete and the obscure, and now and then words and phrases with interesting origins.

The origin of the phrase "pin money" is one I found interesting. Pin money is money set aside, typically for the "housewife", to meet her needs and desires.

It seems that in the early 20th century, pins were quite valuable and were only sold 2 days a year, January 1 and 2. They commanded a high price. The money that a husband gave his wife to buy pins was a large enough sum to earn its own term: "pin money". In England, the wife often included a clause in the marriage contract giving her a lien on the rents that were collected from her husband's lands. It was called the "Pin-Money Charge" and was enforced by the courts as a valid contractual right.

Of course, as the production of pins increased, their value decreased. But "pin money" remains in the lexicon to describe the money given by a husband to his wife for her own use.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Floating pieces of ice, or weak ice, which bend under one as he passes from one cake to another. Boys take great pleasure in this precarious amusement.
-William Craigie and James Hulbert's Dictionary of American English, 1940

I saw an interesting television show the other day. It was called Iceberg Cowboys or something like that. An Ice Patrol went into effect in 1913 for the North Atlantic. Why? Because the Titanic was sunk by an iceberg in the North Atlantic in 1912. Apparently folks decided that it should not happen again. So, to this day, a patrol is flown daily to sight 'bergs. Current technology has added satellite tracking to the Ice Patrol's arsenal.

If a large, potentially deadly iceberg is sighted and it's moving toward shipping lanes or offshore oil platforms, the iceberg wranglers are notified. These sailors take their big boat out and attempt to get a rope around the iceberg to change its course. They need to be careful so they don't sink themselves, or break up the iceberg into several smaller but still deadly chunks. They also try using their propeller wash or water cannons to deflect the icebergs if they can't lasso it.

If all else fails, as in the show I watched, they hauled up all the anchors on the oil platform that was in the way of one iceberg and moved the platform! Good thing they had quite a bit of warning, because that activity took them about 3 days, including down time due to heavy seas.

Who knew?

Friday, January 13, 2006


A dried hemp stalk used by smokers to light their pipes.
-Capt. Francis Grose's Provincial Glossary, 1811

Thursday, January 12, 2006


A glutton.

I can't understand why no one uses this word anymore.

The interesting thing is my dad makes a particular hamburger/macaroni/corn/tomato sauce casserole that he calls "slumgullion".

HA! Slumgullion is in the dictionary; it is a meat stew. The etymology of the word is interesting: perhaps from slum, meaning slime and gullion, meaning mud or cesspool. Mmmmmm, yummy!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


A reception given by newly married couples upon return from their honeymoon.
-John Farmer's Americanisms Old and New, 1889

Any excuse to par-tay...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


This is another word for something that you may not have known the name of. This word is the name of the # symbol on telephones and keyboards.

I always thought it was just called "the number sign" (the official ANSI/CCITT name) or "the pound sign" (USA only).

"Octothorpe" was allegedly created in the 1960's by engineer Don Macpherson who worked for Bell Labs . It is said that he combined the word "octo", meaning eight (8 endpoints on the symbol), with the name of his favorite athlete, Jim Thorpe. Apparently, there are several other alleged origins of the term. Who knows.

The British call the symbol "the square". So practical, those Brits.

Monday, January 09, 2006


To silently watch someone while they are eating, hoping to be invited to join them.

And here all this time I thought I was mooching, not groaking...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

jarns, nittles, grawlix, and quimp

Okay, these aren't obsolete words, but they are names of something you probably never thought had names. These are the various squiggles and symbols used to denote cursing in the comics.

From what I can find, these words were coined by Mort Walker. If you don't know who he is, you obviously don't read the funny papers. Too bad for you.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


A form of magic lantern invented in America, the first to employ a two-wicked paraffin lamp. Since its introduction, three, four, and five wicks have been employed.
-Edward Lloyd's Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895

Friday, January 06, 2006


Food or drink that makes one idle and stupid; food with no nutritional value, junk food.

-Homer Simpson, 2005

Thursday, January 05, 2006

blackthorn winter

Cold weather, when the blackthorn is in blossom.
-Albert Hyamson's Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

whole boiling

The whole boiling means the entire quantity or whole party.

-John Brockett's Glossary of North Country Words, 1825

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Saucepan is on the fire

Means to be ready to scold someone.

Monday, January 02, 2006


A dish made of rabbits, fowl, etc., in a crust of forced [stuffed] meat.
-Walter Skeat's Glossary of Tudor and Stuart Words, 1914

To make a pulpatoon of pigeons...half roast six or eight pigeons, and lay them in a crust of forc'd meat...Scrape a pound of veal, and two pounds of marrow, and beat it together in a stone mortar.
-Eliza Smith's Compleat Housewife, 1758

Sunday, January 01, 2006


A hasty tidying of the house between the time you see a neighbor and the time she knocks on the door.
-John Gould's Maine Lingo: Boiled Owls, Billdads, and Wazzats, 1975