Wrong Word Wednesday Special: Favourite Obsolete Terms and Words

Ok, not really a “Wrong Word Wednesday” but it’s all about the fascinating linguistics of English language history. I watched a QI Special over Christmas and during a discussion of Dr. Johnson, they came up with several terms and phrases that were Quite Interesting that I wouldn’t mind were introduced to the English language. So I did some digging around, and here are some of my favourites.

  • Mouth-friend: have you ever met one of those people who merely claim to be your friend? They might be two-faced, or they might just keep you around to boost their own egos. A friend you only hear from when they are single, perhaps? These people simply say they are your friend but their actions suggest otherwise. They are a mouth-friend.
  • Shapesmith: Now, GIS technicians might have a different idea of what this might be, but a shapesmith advises you on self-improvement of the body. Yes, a shapesmith is a Personal Trainer! Did you think that was a modern career choice? Think again! Shapesmithing has been around since before the time of Johnson.
  • Stockjobber: Few have ever trusted these people, especially today, and the lowest point for their public perception was the 1980s. “Stockjobber” was considered a slur but today, we simply call them Stock traders
  • Spermologer: Ooh er, this one sounds a little rude and I know what you think it is or sounds like, but I’m afraid it is nothing that crude – though they are slightly related. A spermologer was once a hobby from a time when botany was common study amongst gentlemen and ladies of quality – a spermologer studied seeds. Today, these people are known as palynologists and will also study pollen, spores and other plant microfossils
  • Beef-witted: If you think about this, it’s actually quite obvious. It is a rather imaginative way to call somebody “stupid” After all, cows are not particularly clever creatures and they are not known for any form of intelligence. Hence, we refer to “herd mentality” and a woman being a “stupid cow”.
  • Curmuring: is that low, rumbling growl that your bowels make. It is not a fart – nor is it a stomach rumbling – yet it’s somewhere between the two because it is in your bowel rather than your stomach, but the air is not being expelled from your body.

If you know any more good ones, list them here!


6 thoughts on “Wrong Word Wednesday Special: Favourite Obsolete Terms and Words

  1. I had just sent a list of Shakespearean insults to a dear friend of mine this week, which led to an in-depth discussion about how language has deteriorated as time has progressed. Where we used to hurl a string of exceptionally descriptive slurs at our opponents, we now have reduced our interactions to a short, albeit effective hash tag. Such a shame.

    By the way, Blackadder is great TV. 🙂

    1. Ah, I may have seen the Shakespearean insult generator on Facebook, is that what you mean?

      Blackadder is an absolute classic and the clip above from the episode where he spends the whole time tormenting Samuel Johnson with made up words is certainly the best. is it where he introduces the word antidisestablishmentarianism? (which is a real word!)

      1. I’ve looked that word up before!

        I was a thespian when I was in theater school – I had a list saved on my computer of Shakespearean greetings and insults from our induction week. I did see that one on fb this week, too.

    2. I’ve just checked, I was a little confuzzled and felt a bit beef-witted for a moment. He does use the word in Blackadder II, but it’s not in the Johnson episode. He uses it another time.

  2. Great post! I only knew mouth-friend, and curmuring is definitely something I will start using from now on. Love the Blackadder clip too! Laurie probably didn’t know he would have to rapidly speak a lot of jargon himself later while playing a doctor for ten years!

    1. Yes, it’s hard to remember sometimes that the dopey Regent (or later in Blackadder goes Fourth) Private George, is the same actor 🙂

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