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.

Sunday, April 30, 2006


This is the seemingly spiteful behavior shown by inanimate objects.

My lawn mower is manifesting resistentialism. It is evil and must be destroyed.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

don't give a damn

This phrase gets its meaning from an old Hindu coin whose value fluctuated wildly over the years. The value varied from one-thousandth of a rupee to one-fortieth of a rupee. When the value was low, British troopers used its name to describe things or facts that were worthless.

Friday, April 28, 2006


It's the gauntlet!

A race which a criminal was sentenced to run in the navy or army, for any heinous offence. The ship's crew, or a certain division of soldiers, were dispose in two rows face-to-face, each provided with a knotted cord, or knittle, with which they severely struck the delinquent as he ran between them, stripped to the waist. Commonly pronounced gantlet.
- Adm. William Smyth's Sailor's Word-book, 1867

The word comes from Ghent and the Dutch word loopen, to run.

On this date in 1789, there was a mutiny on the HMS Bounty. Mister Christian!

Thursday, April 27, 2006


The mistress of a thief.
- John Farmer's Americanisms Old and New, 1889


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

as they ran

If you bought or sold cattle as they ran, you did so without counting them. Texas.
- Peter Watt's A Dictionary of the Old West, 1850-1900, 1977

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


The first appearance of dawn, day-break; [from] scraich, a shriek, a scream. Scotch.
- Edward Lloyd's Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1895

Monday, April 24, 2006


Pretending to foretell future events; [from] pythoness, the female or priestess who gave oracular answers at Delphi.
- Rev. John Boag's Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

Maybe the current meaning of this word relates to Monty Python. A pythonic breakfast would be spam, eggs, sausage, and spam. A pythonic walk would be very silly, indeed. A pythonic dessert would be a rat tart with not so much rat in it.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


The fear of being buried alive.

This is not an obsolete word, and apparently, is a rather common fear. George Washington himself said this: "Have me decently buried, but do not let my body be put into a vault in less than two days after I am dead."

Before the practice of embalming, it was not unheard of for people to be mistakenly buried alive. In the 18th century, the signaling, or escape hatch, coffin was invented. Some sort of signaling mechanism was installed in the coffin. Bells, flags, and firecrackers were used. Breathing tubes were installed. One model included a shovel, food, and water. The signaling coffin wasn't around for very long, but the fear still exists. An application for a patent for a "coffin alarm" was submitted as recently as 1983.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Over serviceable or officious; doing more than is required or desired. "A whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue." King Lear.
- Daniel Lyon's Dictionary of the English Language, 1897

Wow. King Lear didn't mince words, did he?

Finical means affectedly fine, overnice, unduly particular, fastidious. The affectation is shown in language, manner, and dress.

Happy Earth Day!

Friday, April 21, 2006


A bad habit or custom; a vice [c. 900-1400]; unthewed, ill-mannered, unruly, wanton [1200- late 1300s], unthewful, unmannerly, unseemly [c. 1050-early 1300s].
- William Craigie's New English Dictionary, 1926

Guess what thew means? It is a habit or custom, a form of behavior, a virtue. Well, that's the obsolete meaning. Nowadays, it means a well-developed muscle or sinew; muscular strength. So, next time someone says, "Hey, check out my thews!" You'll know where to look.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Profits and proceeds. It is used in New England for the proceeds of goods sold, or for rents, issues, or profits.
- Rev. John Boag's Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


A party of pleasure, differing from a picnic in that it occupies several days instead of one.
- Robert Hunter's Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1894

I want to go marooning!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


That's an earthquake! Surprise, surprise!

Today is the 100th anniversary of the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Hundreds of people died. Despite modern technologic improvements in "earthquake-proofing" buildings, most of the existing buildings were built before such improved standards. When the next "big one" comes (that's when, not if), based on those previous casualties vs. population, they are predicting upwards of 26,000 people will perish.

There's a happy thought.

Monday, April 17, 2006


One who goes about in a fantastic guise or dress; a masquerader, a mummer; chiefly Scottish.
- Sir James Murray's New English Dictionary, 1901

The word originates from the French word guise, meaning dress.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Today's word comes to us courtesy of the Sensei. It is not obsolete, but that doesn't matter.

Pareidolia is the erroneous or fanciful perception of a pattern or meaning in something that is actually ambiguous or random. It comes from the psychological term describing the mind's obsession with discerning patterns in essentially random objects. Like finding shapes in the clouds or faces on Mars or objects in ink blots.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Full of chads. The bread is chaddy [if] it has been made of meal not properly sifted to get out the husks, fragments of straw, or gritty particles of the mill-stone.
- Rev. Robert Forby's Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830

Let's hear it for the infamous hanging chad!

Friday, April 14, 2006


An epicure.
- Thomas Wright's Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, 1957

An epicure is someone devoted to sensual pleasure; someone with sensitive and discriminating tastes, especially in food and wine.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


The use or choice of words.
- William Craigie's New English Dictionary, 1928

Keep it down! I'm vocabulatin' over here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Welsh ambassador

The cuckoo. "Welsh ambassador" means that the bird announces the migration of Welsh labourers into England for summer employment.
- Ebenezer Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1898

Beginning some time during the 19th century, around this time of year, the first official Cuckoo Day was held in England. Before the official day was established, spontaneous celebrations would break out when the country folk would hear the first cuckoo heralding the arrival of spring.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


To cover with something which cannot be thrown off, generally applied to water; to throw upon something so as to cover or bury it; to turn the open side of a vessel downwards. [From] Saxon abwhilsan.
-Daniel Fenning's Royal English Dictionary, 1775

Fun fact! It is the Feast Day of St. Gemma, an Italian patroness of apothecaries.

Monday, April 10, 2006


A grove of trees.
- Nathaniel Bailey's Dictionarium Rusticum, Urbanicum, and Botanicum: A Dictionary of ...Country Affairs, 1726

Sunday, April 09, 2006


A lightweight wool or worsted twill fabric, used chiefly for coat linings.

Worsted is a compactly twisted woolen yarn. Who knew?

Saturday, April 08, 2006


An appearance of truth; verisimilitude; a representation, picture; [from] sixteenth-century French vrai, true, and semblance.
- William Craigie's New English Dictionary, 1928

Friday, April 07, 2006


To enchant, bewitch, fascinate. Adapted from Old French ensorceler.
- George Meredith's The Shaving of Shagpat, 1856

Wonder if that book is in the library...

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Pieces of linen put into the lower parts of a shirt to make that end wider than the other, to give vent, or room, for the haunch; the same [as] "gores."
- John Mactaggart's Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824

A triangular bit of linen.
- John Jamieson's Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

**A short note: I'll be going out of town for a few days, but I'm going to try to still put up the word of the day each day. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Music that is written, or noted, with dots or points; so called from the points and dots with which it is noted down.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006


In a silly manner; foolishly.
- Rev. John Boag's Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850

That just sounds like poor English, doesn't it?

Monday, April 03, 2006

man of whipcord

A coachman.
- Albert Hyamson's Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

Happy Feast Day of St. Richard of Chichester! He was a 13th-century patron of coachmen.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


This is an opportunist who changes loyalties depending on who is in power and who can benefit him most. Not an obsolete word.

It comes from the Duke of Saxony during the Thirty Years' War. His allegiances changed so often that this fable was told. The duke's land was situated between French and Spanish holdings and served as a battleground between the two. The duke had a reversible coat and when things were going well for Spain, he showed their color of blue. When things went well for France, he showed the French color white.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


An idle whim; a childish fancy. Connected, no doubt, with...nonny, to trifle, to play the fool. A young woman who received a serious injury from an accidental blow said it happened when she was nonnying. Indeed, it is chiefly applied to the fondling and toying of sweethearts, and when the fair one is coy and cries, "be quiet, you shan't &c." It may be conceived to come from the French nenni ["no, no, not at all"].
-Rev. Robert Forby's Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830

[&c means et cetera (etc.), which means and so on, and so forth.]