12 Old Words That Survived by Getting Fossilized in Idioms

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miss_j/iStock/Getty Images Plus

English has changed a lot in the last several hundred years, and there are many words once used that we would no longer recognize today. For whatever reason, we started pronouncing them differently, or stopped using them entirely, and they became obsolete. There are some old words, however, that are nearly obsolete, but we still recognize them because they were lucky enough to get stuck in set phrases that have lasted across the centuries. Here are 12 words that survived by getting fossilized in idioms.

1. Wend

You rarely see a wend without a way. You can wend your way through a crowd or down a hill, but no one wends to bed or to school. However, there was a time when English speakers would wend to all kinds of places. Wend was just another word for go in Old English. The past tense of wend was went and the past tense of go was gaed. People used both until the 15th century, when go became the preferred verb, except in the past tense where went hung on, leaving us with an outrageously irregular verb.

2. Deserts

The desert from the phrase "just deserts" is not the dry and sandy kind, nor the sweet post-dinner kind. It comes from an Old French word for deserve, and it was used in English from the 13th century to mean "that which is deserved." When you get your just deserts, you get your due. In some cases, that may mean you also get dessert, a word that comes from a later French borrowing.

3. Eke

If we see eke at all these days, it's when we "eke out" a living, but it comes from an old verb meaning to add, supplement, or grow. It's the same word that gave us eke-name for "additional name," which later, through misanalysis of "an eke-name" became nickname.

4. Sleight

"Sleight of hand" is one tricky phrase. Sleight is often miswritten as slight and for good reason. Not only does the expression convey an image of light, nimble fingers, which fits well with the smallness implied by slight, but an alternate expression for the concept is legerdemain, from the French léger de main," literally, "light of hand." Sleight comes from a different source, a Middle English word meaning "cunning" or "trickery." It's a wily little word that lives up to its name.

5. Dint

Dint comes from the oldest of Old English, where it originally referred to a blow struck with a sword or other weapon. It came to stand for the whole idea of subduing by force, and is now fossilized in our expression "by dint of X" where X can stand for your charisma, hard work, smarts, or anything you can use to accomplish something else.

6. Roughshod

Nowadays we see this word in the expression "to run/ride roughshod" over somebody or something, meaning to tyrannize or treat harshly. It came about as a way to describe the 17th century version of snow tires. A "rough-shod" horse had its shoes attached with protruding nail heads in order to get a better grip on slippery roads. It was great for keeping the horse on its feet, but not so great for anyone the horse might step on.

7. Fro

The fro in "to and fro" is a fossilized remnant of a Northern English or Scottish way of pronouncing from. It was also part of other expressions that didn't stick around, like "fro and till," "to do fro" (to remove), and "of or fro" (for or against).

8. Hue

The hue of "hue and cry," the expression for the noisy clamor of a crowd, is not the same hue as the term we use for color. The color one comes from the Old English word híew, for "appearance." This hue comes from the Old French hu or heu, which was basically an onomatopoeia, like hoot.

9. Kith

The kith part of "kith and kin" came from an Old English word referring to knowledge or acquaintance. It also stood for native land or country, the place you were most familiar with. The expression "kith and kin" originally meant your country and your family, but later came to have the wider sense of friends and family.

10. Lurch

When you leave someone "in the lurch," you leave them in a jam, in a difficult position. But while getting left in the lurch may leave you staggering around and feeling off-balance, the lurch in this expression has a different origin than the staggery one. The balance-related lurch comes from nautical vocabulary, while the lurch you get left in comes from an old French backgammon-style game called lourche. Lurch became a general term for the situation of beating your opponent by a huge score. By extension, it came to stand for the state of getting the better of someone or cheating them.

11. Umbrage

Umbrage comes from the Old French ombrage (shade, shadow), and it was once used to talk about actual shade from the sun. It took on various figurative meanings having to do with doubt and suspicion or the giving and taking of offense. To give umbrage was to offend someone, to "throw shade." However, these days when we see the term umbrage at all, it is more likely to be because someone is taking, rather than giving it.

12. Shrift

We might not know what a shrift is anymore, but we know we don't want to get a short one. Shrift was a word for a confession, something it seems we might want to keep short, or a penance imposed by a priest, something we would definitely want to keep short. But the phrase "short shrift" came from the practice of allowing a little time for the condemned to make a confession before being executed. So in that context, shorter was not better.

This list was first published in 2015 and republished in 2019.

15 Words for Gossips and Chatterboxes

Sheikoevgeniya/iStock via Getty Images
Sheikoevgeniya/iStock via Getty Images

We all know someone who never seems to stop talking. They’re a yammerer, a babbler, a chatterbox—but they’re also a blatherskite, a clatterfart, and a twattle-basket, as well as a “clucking magpie” and a “seller of gossip."

1. Babliaminy

Babble has been used to mean “to talk excessively” since the mid-13th century at least; the word babliaminy, coined by the English playwright Thomas Middleton, was derived from it in 1608. You can also call an incessant babbler a babelard, a bablatrice, and …

2. Babble-Merchant

… an old English slang word, literally meaning “someone who sells nonsense noise.”

3. Blatherskite

Blatherskite or bletherskate is a 17th century word, probably originating in Scotland, that combines the verb blether or blather, meaning “to talk incessant nonsense,” and skite or skate, meaning “a sudden quick movement.”

4. Blatteroon

Derived from blaterare, a Latin word meaning “to chatter” or “babble,” blatteroon or blateroon first appeared in English in the mid-1600s.

5. Bloviator

Popularized by President Warren G. Harding (who probably picked it up from local Ohio slang in the late 19th century), the word bloviate is now taken to mean “to speak verbosely or long-windedly”­—and someone who does precisely that is a bloviator.

6. Clatteran

As a verb, you can use clatter to mean “to disclose secrets,” or “to chatter or gossip,” and clatteran—alongside clattern and the next word on this list—are all derivatives of that.

7. Clatterfart

According to one Tudor Latin-English dictionary from 1552, a clatterfart is someone who “will disclose any light secret.” In other words, a gossip or a blabbermouth.

8. Clipmalabor

Clipmalabor is an old Scots word for a gossip or a chatterbox, or according to the Scottish National Dictionary, “a senseless silly talker.” It’s a corruption of the earlier Scots word slip-ma-labor, which referred to a lazy slacker or idler who would literally let their work (i.e. their labor) “slip.” Ultimately, its original meaning was probably something along the lines of “someone who gossips while they should be working.”

9. Gashelbike

Gashle is an old dialect word meaning “to twist something out of shape,” while bike or beik is an old Scots derogatory term for a person’s mouth. And if you’re twisting your mouth out of shape by incessantly talking, then you’re a gashelbike.

10. Jangler

Long before it came to mean a jingling, clinking noise, the word jangle was used to mean “to talk excessively or noisily,” or “to dispute angrily.” It’s probably derived from an old French word meaning “to jeer” or “grumble,” and so a jangler was probably originally a constant, vocal complainer as much as a chatterer.

11. Jawsmith

Dating back to the 1880s at least, the word jawsmith began life as late 19th century American slang for a chatterbox, but ultimately it came also to be used to refer to a proficient or professional talker or orator, or a vociferous leader or demagogue.

12. Languager

This word is derived, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, from an old French word, langagier, meaning “to talk abundantly.”

13. Pratepie

Prate has meant “to chatter” since the 15th century, and probably originally referred to the clucking of hens and poultry. The “pie” of pratepie comes from magpie, a bird that, like many other members of the crow family including jackdaws, jays, and choughs, has long been seen as a proverbially very vocal, garrulous creature.

14. Tongue-Pad

The word tongue-pad first appeared in English in the late 1600s, and was defined in A Dictionary of the Canting Crew in 1699 as “a smooth, glib-tongued, insinuating fellow.” That meaning had changed by the time it was added to Webster’s Dictionary in 1913, which defined it as “a great talker; a chatterbox.”

15. Twattle-Basket

What we would now called tittle-tattle was once also known as twittle-twattle in 16th century English, and derived from that, a twattle-basket is someone full of useless, idle chatter.

This list first ran in 2016 and was republished in 2019.

What Does CPR Stand For?

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undefined undefined/iStock via Getty Images

The life-saving technique known as CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It's a method that allows oxygenated blood to temporarily circulate throughout the body of a person whose heart has stopped. When the heart ceases beating during cardiac arrest, lungs stop receiving oxygen. Without oxygen, nerve cells start to die within minutes; it can take just four to six minutes for an oxygen-deprived person to sustain permanent brain damage or die.

The cardio part of the phrase refers to the heart, the muscular organ that pumps blood through the body's circulatory system. Pulmonary involves the lungs. People take approximately 15 to 20 breaths per minute, and with each breath you take, your lungs fill with oxygen. Resuscitation means bringing something back to consciousness, or from the brink of death.

We have two physicians, Peter Safar and James Elam, to thank for developing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in the mid-1950s. In 1957, the American military adopted their CPR method for reviving soldiers. In 1960, the American Heart Association integrated chest compressions, which keep the blood circulating.

Doctors, nurses, dentists, first responders, lifeguards, and some teachers are required to be certified in CPR. But because approximately 85 percent of cardiac arrests occur at home, it’s smart for the average person to know how to perform it, too. In school, you were probably taught CPR by the traditional method of giving 100 to 120 chest compressions per minute (play the Bee Gees’ "Stayin’ Alive" in your head to keep the beat) and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Today, the American Heart Association recommends that average people learn hands-only CPR, which simply involves chest compressions. The organization has found that people can be reluctant to administer mouth-to-mouth CPR in an emergency because they're afraid of doing it wrong or injuring the patient. With hands-only CPR, bystanders feel less anxiety and more willingness to jump in. The AHA also notes that hands-only CPR can be just as effective in saving a life. (And any CPR is better than none at all.)

But how many people actually know CPR?

In 2018, a Cleveland Clinic survey found that 54 percent of Americans said they knew CPR, but only one in six people knew that bystander CPR requires only chest compressions. Only 11 percent of people knew the correct pace for compressions. Again, singing "Stayin' Alive" to yourself is one way to remember the pace—though being a fan of The Office can apparently help, too (as one lucky life-saver recently discovered).

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