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30 Old (And Useful) Slang Names For Parts of the Body

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People have been using belly button to mean “navel” since the late 1800s. Your nose has been your schnozz since the 1940s, and your hooter since the '50s. Booty has been dated back as far as 1928. Guys have been comparing their guns since 1973, and their pecs since 1949. But slang names for parts of the body don’t end there. Slang and colloquial dictionaries dating back hundreds of years—including Francis Grose’s brilliant Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1788)—are littered with dozens of odd and inventive anatomical alternatives for everything from a greasy cowlick to the littlest of little toes, 30 examples of which are listed here.

1. AGGRAVATOR

In 19th century slang, aggravators—or haggerawators as Charles Dickens called them—were lose locks of hair hanging over the forehead, like a kiss-curl or cowlick. At the time, it was fashionable for young men to grease aggravators down so that they lay flat against the skin.

2. BOWSPRIT

bowsprit is a long pole or bar that extends out from prow of a boat, to which various sails and stays are tied. As the most prominent part of the main structure of the boat, however, bowsprit became a slang word for the nose in the mid-1700s.

3. BRAINPAN

Your brainpan or braincase is your skull. Still used today in some dialects of English, brainpan is by far the oldest word on this list; its earliest known record dates from mid-8th century.

4. CANDLE-MINE

Back when candles were made out of tallow (rendered beef grease) rather than wax, a person’s candle-mine was their own personal storehouse of fat—or, in other words, their belly.

5. CAT-STICKS

In 18th century slang, cat-sticks or trap-sticks were a skinny man’s long, bony legs. The term comes from the sticks used to play tip-cat, an old game in which players would hit a short wooden bar called a “tip” into the air with a long tapering pole known as a “cat-stick.” The tip would be bounced up and then batted as far as possible, with the player propelling their tip the farthest being the winner.

6. CLAPPER

Clapper has been used as a slang name for the tongue since the 17th century, in the sense that a talkative person’s tongue constantly moves back and forth like the clapper inside a bell.

7. COMMANDMENTS

In Tudor English, your ten commandments were your ten fingernails. Shakespeare alludes to it in Henry VI, Part 2: “Could I come near your beauty with my nails, I could set my ten commandments on your face.”

8. CORPORAL

According to 18th century slang, your thumb is your corporal, and your other four fingers are the privates.

9. DADDLES

Your daddles are your hands, although no one knows precisely why. The most likely theory is that this comes from dadder, an 18th century word meaning to stagger or walk unsteadily, in which case it probably first referred to a nervous person’s shaking hands.

10. DEW-BEATER

Dew-beaters is 19th century slang for your feet, alluding to someone knocking the dew off the grass as they walk. The word was also once used to mean a pioneer or an early riser—namely someone who arrived before or started their day before anyone else.

11. FAMBLE

Famble is an old 14th century word meaning to stammer or stumble your words, and probably through confusion with fumble it came to be used as another name for a hand in Tudor slang. A fambler, incidentally, is a crook who sells counterfeit rings.

12. GRABBING IRONS

In 18th century naval slang, your grabbers were your hands and your grabbing or grabbling irons were your fingers.

13. HAUSE-PIPE

Hause is an old Scots word for a narrow valley or a passage between two hills or mountains, and it eventually came to be used metaphorically for the throat or gullet. Your hause-pipe, ultimately, is your windpipe.

14. KEEKER

Keek is another old Scots word, meaning a quick glimpse or glance, especially of something you really shouldn’t be looking at. Hence a keeker is both an old word for an eyeball, and another name for an ogler or a peeping tom.

15. MACONOCHIE

Maconochie Brothers, founded by Archibald White Maconochie in 1896, was a food cannery based in Poplar in London’s East End that supplied millions of tons of canned food rations to troops serving in the First World War. As a result, the name Maconochie eventually came to be used as another name for the stomach in military slang.

16. MAYPOLE

For reasons too obvious to go into here, maypole was an old 17th century name for a penis, along with dozens of others: needle, rubigo, virge, tarse, runnion and—probably most euphemistically of all—the other thing.

17. PEERIE-WINKIE

Peerie is an old Scottish word meaning small or tiny; your peerie-winkie is your little finger or toe.

18. PHIZ

Phiz is short for fizzog or physog, all three of which are 18th century abbreviations of physiognomy, the proper name for a person’s facial features or appearance.

19. PRAT

Prat is a 16th century name for a buttock or the side of the hip. It’s the same prat as in pratfall, incidentally (which was originally a theatrical name for a fall backwards onto your rear), while a prat-frisker or prat-digger was a pickpocket particularly skilled at stealing from people’s back pockets.

20. PRAYER-BONES

Because of the long tradition of kneeling to pray, your prayer-bones have been your kneecaps since the mid-19th century at least.

21. PUDDING-HOUSE

It’s where your pudding ends up, so unsurprisingly, your pudding-house is your stomach. It’s likely this was also used more generally to refer to the abdomen or trunk of the body, however, as since the late-1800s pregnant women have been said to be “in the pudding club” in British slang.

22. RATTLETRAP

Trap has been used as a slang name for the mouth since at least the 18th century, and rattletrap is just one variation of this theme, alongside dozens of others like potato-trap, kissing-trap, jaw-trap, gingerbread-trap, and gin-trap.

23. SALT-CELLAR

In 19th century slang, the small round hollow between the collarbones at the base of the neck—and in particular a young woman’s neck—was nicknamed the salt-cellar, a reference to the small bowls or basins of salt used in kitchens. (That hollow’s proper anatomical name, incidentally, is the suprasternal notch.)

24. SPECTACLES-SEAT

Because it’s where your spectacles rest, the bridge of your nose was your spectacles-seat in Victorian slang.

25. THREE-QUARTERS

Three-quarters was criminals’ rhyming slang for your neck in the late 18th century, derived from “three-quarters of a peck,” an old measure of volume.

26. TRILLIBUBS

Trillibubs (or trolly-bags as they also became known) are guts or intestines. The term was originally used by butchers, usually in the full phrase tripes and trillibubs, in the early 16th century, but by the mid-1700s it had come to be used as a slang name for a person’s guts, or for a bloated stomach.

27. TWOPENNY

Twopenny is short for twopenny loaf, which is in turn derived from loaf of bread—rhyming slang for “head” since the early 1800s at least.

28. UNDERPINNINGS

Underpinnings are literally the materials and supports used to support a structure, like the foundations of a building. Based on that, in the early 19th century the term came to be used as a slang name for your legs.

29. VICTUALLING OFFICE

The victualling office was the naval department responsible for allocating and dispensing food and other supplies to the crew of a ship ahead of a voyage. It came to be a slang name for the stomach or abdomen in the mid-1700s.

30. WELSH COMB

Your Welsh comb is your thumb and four fingers. According to the relatively more cosmopolitan Londoners who invented the term in the 18th century, that’s precisely what a less sophisticated Welshman would once have used to comb his hair.

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Big Questions
Where Does the Phrase '… And the Horse You Rode In On' Come From?
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Horses may no longer be the dominant form of transportation in the U.S., but the legacy of our horseback-riding history lives on in language. When telling people off, we still use the phrase “... and the horse you rode in on.” These days, it’s rare for anyone you're telling to go screw themselves to actually be an equestrian, so where did “and the horse you rode in on” come from, anyway?

Well, let’s start with the basics. The phrase is, essentially, an intensifier, one typically appended to the phrase “F*** you.” As the public radio show "A Way With Words" puts it, it’s usually aimed at “someone who’s full of himself and unwelcome to boot.” As co-host and lexicographer Grant Barrett explains, “instead of just insulting you, they want to insult your whole circumstance.”

The phrase can be traced back to at least the 1950s, but it may be even older than that, since, as Barrett notes, plenty of crude language didn’t make it into print in the early 20th century. He suggests that it could have been in wide use even prior to World War II.

In 1998, William Safire of The New York Times tracked down several novels that employed the term, including The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) and No Bugles, No Drums (1976). The literary editor of the latter book, Michael Seidman, told Safire that he heard the term growing up in the Bronx just after the Korean War, leading the journalist to peg the origin of the phrase to at least the late 1950s.

The phrase has had some pretty die-hard fans over the years, too. Donald Regan, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1984, worked it into his official Treasury Department portrait. You can see a title along the spine of a book in the background of the painting. It reads: “And the Horse You Rode In On,” apparently one of Regan’s favorite sayings. (The book in the painting didn't refer to a real book, but there have since been a few published that bear similar names, like Clinton strategist James Carville’s book …and the Horse He Rode In On: The People V. Kenneth Starr and Dakota McFadzean’s 2013 book of comics Other Stories And the Horse You Rode In On.)

It seems that even in a world where almost no one rides in on a horse, insulting a man’s steed is a timeless burn.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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language
How to Say Merry Christmas in 26 Different Languages
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“Merry Christmas” is a special greeting in English, since it’s the only occasion we say “merry” instead of “happy.” How do other languages spread yuletide cheer? Ampersand Travel asked people all over the world to send in videos of themselves wishing people a “Merry Christmas” in their own language, and while the audio quality is not first-rate, it’s a fun holiday-themed language lesson.

Feel free to surprise your friends and family this year with your new repertoire of foreign-language greetings.

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