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, December 31, 2006

newyear's gift

An interjection corresponding to "Happy New Year!"
- D.S. Crumb's The Dialect of Southeastern Missouri, 1903

This is the last word from desktop calendar, Forgotten English compiled by Jeffrey Kacirk. I've enjoyed learning these words and I've had fun sharing them. Thank you. I very nearly got one word posted every day on this blog; I think I missed one day by about 3 minutes. Not all of the words and phrases were from the aforementioned calendar, there are other sources that I've used. But it was nice having that calendar word readily available. will attempt to go into the new year continuing a word a day. The word or phrase may not be an obsolete one, but I'm not changing the name of my blog. So there!

Anyway, I will try keep the streak alive. See you in the new year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006


What did you call me??

This is a person who reads in bed.

Friday, December 29, 2006

give the goose

To hiss; from the sounds uttered by geese; theatrical slang.
- Albert Hyamson's Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

Funny. I thought that would mean something else...

Our Forgotten English calendar also gives a quote today regarding "goose-dancing parties":

From Christmas to Twelfth-tide, parties of mummers known as "Goose-dancers" paraded the streets in all sorts of disguises, with masks on. They often behaved in such an unruly manner that women and chirldren were afraid to venture out. If the doors of the houses were not locked they would enter uninvited and stay, playing all kinds of antics until money was given them to go away.
- M.A. Courtney's Cornish Feasts and Folk-lore, 1890

Thursday, December 28, 2006


When a peasant of South Northamptonshire has committed any breach of good morals, it is customary for his neighbours to "lowbell" him, the meaning of which is best expressed by its apparent etymology, the past participle of the Anglo-Saxon lowian, and the verb bellan, still retained in this dialect. On the first appearance of the culprit, the villagers rise en masse and greet him with a terrible din of tin cans, kettles, &c. and amidst the hooting and vociferation of the multitude, he is generally compelled to seek shelter by flight. This is called lowbelling, and the actors are termed lowbells or lowbellers, forming a tolerable explanation of lowbell in Beaumont and Fletcher's Woman's Prize, which has so long mystified the commentators.
- Thomas Sternberg's Dialect and Folk-lore of Northamptonshire, 1851

Ahhh, mystery solved!

The best part of that quote is when he says "South Northamptonshire".

According to Webster's (1913), lowbell means to frighten, as with a lowbell. (!!!) A lowbell is explained in Webster's as a bell used at night while fowling, to frighten the birds so they will fly into a net. It is also the bell hung around a sheep's neck.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


A term applied to the weather when there is a thick rain; Galloway.
- John Jamieson's Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

A "lum o' a day," a very wet day. The rain is just coming lumming down when it rains fast. This word and loom, a mist or fog, are of a kindred.
- John Mactaggart's Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


To let squizzle, to fire a gun.
- Mitford Mathew's Dictionary of Americanisms, 1956

Happy Kwanzaa!

Happy Boxing Day!

Happy St. Stephen's Day! This is the feast day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He was stoned to death shortly after the crucifixtion. Nice.

Our Forgotten English (Kacirk 2006) calendar tell us that it used to be a custom for the men and boys to go out shooting on St. Stephen's day. In the British Isles, "Hunting the Wren" or "Going on the Wren" is held on this day. It comes from the story that St. Stephen was betrayed by the singing of a wren while he was trying to escape his guards. Therefore, all good christians go out and blow away the wrens.

Monday, December 25, 2006


Handsome, well-shaped; spoken of horses, cows, etc.
- John Ray's North Country Words, 1674-91

Sunday, December 24, 2006

halcyon days

The current use and meaning of this phrase is nostalgic in nature, recalling the sunny, carefree days of youth.

Halcyon comes from alcyon, a bird in Greek legend commonly considered to be the kingfisher. The h was tacked onto alcyon because of the association with the sea, which is hals in Greek.

Aeolus was the ruler of the winds. He had a daughter Alcyone who was married to the king of Thessaly, Ceyx. Ceyx drowned at sea and in her grief, Alcyone threw herself into the sea. Her father, the ruler of the winds, instead carried her to her husband. The gods changed them into winter birds. Around the winter solstice, the ocean calms and for fourteen days, Alcyone will sit on her floating nest out at sea and hatch out more little kingfishers.

Halcyon means calm and tranquil, happy and carefree; but it is rarely used outside the phrase halcyon days. Halcyon days, those 14 days that the weather is calm around the winter solstice. Seven days before and seven after.

The winter solstice was December 22 this year, so we still have a few halcyon days left. One more halcyon day until Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2006


To land a fish with unnecessary force. Figuratively, to attack any project with unusual vigor or enthusiasm. Of a girl who quite obviously "set her cap" for a village preacher it was said, "Minnie figures on tree-toppin' him." Ozarks.
- Vance Randolph's Down in the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech, 1953

She's doing what to the preacher? Minnie! I do declare!

Friday, December 22, 2006

shote's head

Shote is the name given in the southern states to a young fat hog.... Take out the brains and boil the head till quite tender, cut the heart and liver from the harslet, and boil the feet with the head. Cut all the meat from the head in small pieces, mince the tongue and cut the brains small; take some of the water the head was boiled in, season it with onion, parsley, and thyme, all chopped fine, add any kind of catsup - thicken it with butter and brown flour, stew the whole in it fifteen minutes, and put it in the dish. Have the heart roasted to put in the middle; lay the broiled liver around, and garnish it with green pickle.
- Mary Randolph's The Virginia House - Wife, or Methodical Cook, 1824

Make that extra pickles, if you please!

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Short in stature, but full grown; said of a diminutive female. A ludicrous derivative from nab, "to catch, as a bird catches insects in its bill," as if the little creature might be taken up between one's finger and thumb.
- Rev. Rovert Forby's Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


To clack wool, to cut off the sheep's mark.
- John Kersey's New English Dictionary, 1772

We learn from our Forgotten English calendar that the word earmark comes from the shepherds' custom of marking their sheep with cuts in their ears.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Adam's wine

A cant phrase for water as a beverage, our first father being supposed to have known nothing more powerful.
- John Jamieson's Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

Also known as Adam's ale.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Breach of the peace; [from] Anglo-Saxon grith, peace.
- Herbert Coleridge's Dictionary of the Oldest Words in the English Language, 1863

Sunday, December 17, 2006

welch comb

The thumb and four fingers.
- Francis Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Provisions purchased; also, the room or place allotted to the keeping of all such provisions as the purveyors purchased for the king; [related to] acater, a caterer, a purveyor.
- James Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1855

Friday, December 15, 2006


A sleigh-ride. "Come on out and have a ponny." Long Island.
- Harold Wentworth's American Dialect Dictionary, 1944

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Humbug, hoax, pretence; [from] nineteenth-century French.
- C.A.M. Fennell's The Stanford Dictionary of Anglicised Words and Phrases, 1964

To tell lies.
- Sir James Murray's New English Dictionary, 1888

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


A confirmed mania or insane craving for alcoholic stimulants; [from] Greek dipsa, thirst, and mania, madness.
- W. & R. Chambers's Etymological Dictionary, 1877

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


A thin, watery soup served on some [sailing] vessels. A sailor's food is oftentimes of the poorest - not to say revolting - description. The following are some of the choicest terms for such dainties: Lobscouse, dandy funk, dogsbody, sea-pie, choke-dog, twice laid, hishee-hashee, dough Jehovahs, tommy, soft tack.
- Albert Barrere's A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon, and Cant, 1889

I have known many a strong stomach made food-proof by years of pork eaten with molasses and biscuit alive with worms, to be utterly capsized by the mere smell of soup-and-bouilli. Jack calls it soap-and-bullion - one onion to a gallon of water, and this fairly expresses the character of the nauseous compound.
- Clark Russell's Sailors' Language: A Collection of Sea Terms, 1883


Monday, December 11, 2006


Supposed to be a kind of sallow colour.
- Robert Nares's Glossary of the Works of English Authors, 1859

A complexion inclining to the Oriental colour.
- Sir John Harington's Anatomie of the Metamorphosed Ajax, 1596

[Said to Grim, the collier of Croydon:] "By'r ladie, you are of a good complexion, a right croydon-sanguine."
- Richard Edward's Two Most Faithfullest Freends, Damon and Pithias, 1567

Anatomie of the Metamorphosed Ajax?? What the...??

I've got to get my hands on that book and the last one about "Most Faithfullest Freends."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

spick and span

Before there were rulers and yardsticks, the most common units of measure were the spick and the span. Spick comes from the spick-nail which today would equal 2 and 1/4 inches. The span was the distance from the extended thumb to the extended little finger on an average-sized hand. Today, it would equal about 9 inches.

Tailors used these measurements. The spick was used for bust and chest measurements. The span was used for length. The spick and span measurements were used so cleanly and precisely that the phrase spick and span eventually came to mean neat and tidy.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

fourth-class liberty

Scanning the shore, especially with binoculars, when restricted aboard ship.
- Gershom Bradford's A Glossary of Sea Terms, 1943

Friday, December 08, 2006

mere corduroy

Mere corduroy is a metaphor for inferior folk. This expression exhibits a curious debasement of association. The word is derived from the French cord du roi, so called because originally worn by the kings of France in the chase, being formally manufactured of silk but now made of other material, and chiefly used by laborers. The word has come to be used as a sort of general designation for this class.
- A. Wallace's Popular Sayings Dissected, 1895

Thursday, December 07, 2006


To lounge or saunter heavily. Loll-poop, a sluggish sedentary lounger. Literally, one who is sluggish in the stern.
- Rev. Robert Forby's Vocabulary of East Anglia, 1830

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

extra pull

An extra pull, an advantage. A drinking metaphor from the extra pull at the handle of the beer machine.
- Albert Hyamson's Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

lawyer's treat

Here's a good one!!

A phrase implying that each shall pay for his own drinks. A lawyer never treats his clients at a refreshment bar - they "defray the cost" between them.
- Trench Johnson's Phrases and Names: Their Origins and Meanings, 1906

Monday, December 04, 2006

five-finger tied

Tied by all the fingers of the hand.
- Daniel Lyons's Dictionary of the English Language, 1897

Exaggerated expression for "tied very securely."
- C.T. Onions's Oxford Shakespeare Glossary, 1911

Sunday, December 03, 2006

cook your own goose

According to Common Phrases (Mordock and Korach), the origin of this phrase, meaning to get into trouble and have your plans spoiled, comes from old Sweden.

The king of Sweden, Eric, sent his army to subdue one of his provinces that was getting out of hand. His advisors advised against the action because Eric's army was out-numbered. The opposing forces learned the king's army was coming, so as a joke, they hung up a large goose for the troops to shoot at. Apparently, King Eric was quite fond of goose and everyone knew that.

The king's army won the day and the enemy was forced to surrender. King Eric was asked what his terms were. He responded, "To cook your own goose." When the surrender was finalized, the king sent for the goose, cooked it himself, and it ate it with quite a bit of satisfaction.

The common variation on this phrase is to cook someone else's goose. In this case, your spoiling someone else's plans and raining on their parade!

My web searches indicate that unlike Mordock and Korach's assessment, the origin of this phrase has been lost. The common theory tells the story of authorities of a medieval town that was under seige hanging a goose from a tower. Some say they did this to indicate that they had plenty of food, others that the goose was a symbol of stupidity and they were taunting the enemy. As the story goes, the action only riled the attackers who burned the town, literally cooking the real goose and cooking the goose of the townsfolk in terms of the modern phrase's meaning. There is no historical evidence to back up this medieval siege story and scholars seem to agree that it is simply a story.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Concentrated, strong. There is an old saying that camp cooks test coffee by dropping an iron wedge into the pot. If the wedge floats, the coffee is too strong. Ozarks.
- Vance Randolph's Down in the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech, 1953

I had an officemate in grad school who made many a wedge float. Whew!

Friday, December 01, 2006


Keeper of a library.
- Elisha Coles's English Dictionary, 1713