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!

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September 19, 2006 - 11:28am
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