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10 Historical Euphemisms for Infidelity

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Here are 10 historical slang terms and euphemisms for infidelity that you probably won’t see in headlines today.

1. Carrying tackle: Used primarily in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a man having an indiscreet affair was said to be carrying tackle. Tackle was also used to describe flashy or expensive clothing.

2. Groping for trout in a peculiar river: A Shakespearean joke used in Measure for Measure, where groping describes a method of fishing by feeling for them in the water with the hands; peculiar was already in use to describe a mistress, much in the same way a cat or an owl might be a witch’s peculiar.

3. Pour treasure into foreign laps: Another from Shakespeare, this time from Othello, wherein the character Emilia attributes adultery by wives to the misbehavior of their husbands: [They] “slack their duties, and pour our treasures into foreign laps.”

4. Left-handed honeymoon: In use as early as the 1920s or 30s, the saying in full is “He/She is on a left-handed honeymoon with someone else’s wife/husband.”

5. To cut/take a slice: In modern parlance, the adage goes, “It’s safe to take a slice because a cut loaf won’t miss one,” but the idea of women as neatly apportioned loaves of bread is at least 400 years old: a notable early appearance is found in The Tinker of Turvey, a collection of Canterbury tales dating from 1590.

6. Wife in watercolors: This Regency era phrase is less about describing the beauty of the woman you married as a work of art than it is about the easy solubility of water-based paint. A “wife in watercolors” was a mistress, because unlike an actual marriage, the relationship was easily dissolved. Likewise, “painting a wife in watercolor” was a polite euphemism for a man having a discreet affair.

7. Off the rez: Originally, “off the rez” or “off the reservation” was cowboy slang for a person out of his or her element or in unfamiliar territory. Later, the term was used to describe a person who had gone insane or was in extremely familiar territory with a person to whom he or she was not married.

8. War on two fronts: If love is a battlefield, adultery can only complicate (extra)marital strategy. The phrase has long been in use for actual military action, but entered American slang euphemistically after World War II and was bandied about a bit during the Lewinsky scandal.

9. Hiking the Appalachian trail: We can thank former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford for turning a legitimate test of endurance into slang for sneaking away to meet a mistress. When Sanford disappeared in 2009 for nearly a week, no one (including his wife) had any idea where he’d gone. His spokesperson reported that he wasn’t missing, only hiking the Appalachian Trail. But when Sanford reappeared, he admitted he had gone to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he was having an affair.

10. Yarding on: Beat slang gave the lexicon "backdoor" and "backyard" men and women in the 1950s (though the terms were probably around for a few decades before they adopted them), and naturally a verb form followed, as in “The scandal broke when emails revealed that General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell were yarding on their spouses with each other.”

Sources: 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811/2003; A Glossary of Shakespeare’s Sexual Language, Gordon Williams, 1997/2006; Westopedia: Language and Lore of Real America, Win Blevins, 2012; Dictionary of American Slang 4e, Barbara Ann Kipfer and Robert L. Chapman, 2010; The American Slang Dictionary, Annotated. James Maitland, 1891/2007; Straight From the Fridge, Dad. Max Decharne, 2000; Merriam-Webster’s Book of Word Histories, 1991; The Best Guide to Euphemism. Nigel Rees, 2006; Urban Dictionary: Freshest Street Slang Defined. Aaron Peckham, 2012.

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'Froyo,' 'Troll,' and 'Sriracha' Added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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Looking for the right word to describe the time you spend drinking before heading out to a party, or a faster way to say “frozen yogurt?" Merriam-Webster is here to help. The 189-year-old English vocabulary giant has just added 250 new words and definitions to their online dictionary, including pregame and froyo.

New words come and go quickly, and it’s Merriam-Webster’s job to keep tabs on the terms that have staying power. “As always, the expansion of the dictionary mirrors the expansion of the language, and reaches into all the various cubbies and corners of the lexicon,” they wrote in their announcement.

Froyo is just one of the recent additions to come from the culinary world. Bibimbap, a Korean rice dish; choux pastry, a type of dough; and sriracha, a Thai chili sauce that’s been around for decades but has just recently exploded in the U.S., are now all listed on Merriam-Webster's website.

Of course, the internet was once again a major contributor to this most recent batch of words. Some new terms, like ransomware (“malware that requires the victim to pay a ransom to access encrypted files”) come from the tech world, while words like troll ("to harass, criticize, or antagonize [someone] especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts”) were born on social media. Then there’s the Internet of Things, a concept that shifts the web off our phones and computers and into our appliances.

Hive mind, dog whistle, and working memory are just a few of the new entries to receive the Merriam-Webster stamp of approval. To learn more about how some words make it into the dictionary while others get left out, check these behind-the-scenes secrets of dictionary editors.

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How New Words Become Mainstream
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If you used the words jeggings, muggle, or binge-watch in a sentence 30 years ago, you would have likely been met with stares of confusion. But today these words are common enough to hold spots in the Oxford English Dictionary. Such lingo is a sign that English, as well as any other modern language, is constantly evolving. But the path a word takes to enter the general lexicon isn’t always a straightforward one.

In the video below, TED-Ed lays out how some new words become part of our everyday speech while others fade into obscurity. Some words used by English speakers are borrowed from other languages, like mosquito (Spanish), avatar (Sanskrit), and prairie (French). Other “new” words are actually old ones that have developed different meanings over time. Nice, for example, used to only mean silly, foolish, or ignorant, and meat was used as blanket term to describe any solid food given to livestock.

The internet alone is responsible for a whole new section of our vocabulary, but even the words most exclusive to the web aren’t always original. For instance, the word meme was first used by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.

To learn more about the true origins of the words we use on a regular basis, check out the full story from TED-Ed below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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