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How to Swear Like an Old Prospector

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Now that swearing like a pirate has jumped the shark, isn't it time we exhumed another subgenre of anachronistic curse words? To save us all from another "scurvy dogs" joke -- one more and I will walk the bloody plank -- I humbly propose replacing all naughty pirate jargon with crusty old-prospector talk, which is just as colorful, if not more expletive-laced. But this time, let's be smart about it -- nerdy, even -- and figure out from whence they came before we start throwing them around willy-nilly. To that end, here are my top five old prospector curses, and their respective, only slightly questionable, etymologies:

1. To dadburn
Function: verb
Definition: to curse
Etymology: "Dad" is a substitute for "God" in turn-of-the-century Southern U.S. vernacular. "Godburn" certainly sounds like Old-Testament-style divine retribution; ie, to curse.
Use it in a sentence: "Dadburned boll weevil done 'et my crop!"

2. To hornswoggle
Function: verb
Definition: To embarrass, disconcert or confuse.
Etymology: Belongs to a group of "fancified" words popular in the 19th century American West, invented to ridicule sophisticates back east. (Funny, it didn't quite work out that way.)
Use it in a sentence: "I'll be hornswoggled!"

3. Sockdolager
Function: noun
Definition: A big finish.
Etymology: A mis-heard, semi-spoonerism of the word "doxologer," a colloquial New England rendering of "doxology," which was a Puritan term for the collective raising of voices in song at the end of a worship service. Thus, a "sockdolager" is something truly exceptional -- the end-all-be-all.
Use it in a sentence: "Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologisin' old man-trap!"
Fun fact: The above line appears in Tom Taylor's play Our American Cousin, which was performed on the evening of April 14th, 1865 at Ford's Theater. It got a big laugh from the crowd, which John Wilkes Booth used to muffle the sound of the gunshot that assassinated President Lincoln.

4. Consarn
Function: noun
Definition: The whole of something, though often misused as "damn."
Etymology: Unknown, though it pops up in British literature as early as the eighteenth century. An educated guess: it's related to concern, a business establishment or enterprise.
Use it in a quip by 19th century American humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw: "Put an Englishman into the Garden of Eden, and he would find fault with the whole blarsted consarn!"

5. Dumfungled
Function: adjective
Definition: Used up
Etymology: Also unknown, though it was coined during the Great Neologism Craze of the 1830s, and its common usage didn't survive the turn of the century.
Use it in a sentence: "Ye'd best put that dumfungled hoss out to pasture!"

Got some anachronistic filth of your own? Let us know!

'Embiggen,' a Made-Up Word from The Simpsons, Has Officially Landed in the Dictionary

From d’oh! to dorkus malorkus, the English language owes a lot to The Simpsons, particularly when it comes to made-up neologisms. As io9 reports, the animated series’ latest contribution to everyday chatter was made official earlier this week, when Merriam-Webster announced that the Springfield-originated verb embiggen is one of 850 new words that have just been added to their online dictionary.

Though the word has transcended its animated town origins, being regularly used by online outlets (“click to embiggen this map”) and superhero Kamala Khan in the Ms. Marvel comic book series, its original popular usage dates back more than 20 years, to a seventh-season episode of The Simpsons titled “Lisa the Iconoclast.” In it, the students of Springfield Elementary School are treated to Young Jebediah Springfield, an educational film that depicts the early days of the founder of their great town. His secret? “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”

Though the rarity of the word led even Edna Krabappel to question its authenticity (fellow teacher Ms. Hoover assures her that “it’s a perfectly cromulent word,” a reference to yet another piece of The Simpsons lexicon), writer Dan Greaney actually coined the phrase even before the episode.

Amazingly, it turns out that Jebediah Springfield may have been very hip to the times when he used the phrase after all; the word was also used by author C.A. Ward in his Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc., which was published in 1884.

[h/t: io9]

18 Words to Welcome Spring

The worst of the winter weather is now (hopefully) behind us, and the days are getting longer and warmer. So unless we have some winnol-weather or lamb-storms on the way, it seems spring is finally coming. With that in mind, here are 18 words you might find useful in the weeks and months to come.


Derived from lagneia, a Greek word meaning "lust," vernalagnia is a more formal name for what’s otherwise known as "spring fever"—a brighter and often more romantic mood brought on by the return of fine weather in the spring. One 1958 medical dictionary described vernalagnia as the “awakening of sexual desire in the spring.” (Spring fever can also mean, as one 19th century dictionary of American English put it, “the listless feeling caused by the first sudden increase of temperature in spring.”)


Borrowed into English in the late 1800s, the word reverdie has a long history in its native French dating back as far as the 14th century at least: Derived from a verb, reverdir, meaning “to become green again,” a reverdie is a song, poem or dance performed in celebration of the return of the spring.


Since the 19th century, the chirruping of birds during the spring mating season is known as valentining. If you want to be even more specific, though …


… the verb chelidonize is a proper word for the chirping of swallows as they fly overhead. It derives from the Greek word for swallow, chelidon—which is also the origin of …


… the 17th century adjective Chelidonian. As well as being used to describe anything the deep red color of a swallow’s throat, Chelidonian winds are warm spring winds, so called because they tended to start blowing around the same time that swallows and martins began to return in the spring.


A word for the re-emerging of plants above the ground in spring, the 17th century adjective erumpent describes anything that bursts forth. The very first appearance of a plant above the ground, incidentally, is called the breard.


On the subject of spring weather, lamb-storms are spring thunderstorms, so-called because they break around the same time that lambs are born. An after-winter, meanwhile, is a period of bad weather when spring should be due, while Winnol-weather is a period of stormy or wintry weather around the feast day of St Winwaloe on March 3.


According to an 18th century dictionary of botanical terms, Frondescentia is “leafing season,” or “the time of the year when plants first unfold their leaves.” Likewise, a plant that is frondescent is just beginning to bud or produce leaves; frondescence is the process of budding or producing leaves; and when a plant frondesces, then it grows or puts forth leaves or buds. All four of these come from the Latin word for “leaf,” frons.


Router is an old Yorkshire dialect word meaning “to rush around noisily,” or, as the English Dialect Dictionary puts it, “to make a search amidst a confusion of things.” Derived from that, a routering-bout is a thorough spring-cleaning of a house.


Coined in the 18th century, floriage is blossom, or the collective flowers of a plant or tree. Likewise, a floriation is a decoration made of flowers (or figuratively a musical flourish), while efflorescence is the development or production of blossoming flowers.


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