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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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Something Something Soup Something
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language
This Game About Soup Highlights How Tricky Language Is
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Something Something Soup Something

Soup, defined by Merriam-Webster as "a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food," is the ultimate simple comfort food. But if you look closer at the definition, you'll notice it's surprisingly vague. Is ramen soup? What about gumbo? Is a soy vanilla latte actually a type of three-bean soup? The subjectivity of language makes this simple food category a lot more complicated than it seems.

That’s the inspiration behind Something Something Soup Something, a new video game that has players label dishes as either soup or not soup. According to Waypoint, Italian philosopher, architect, and game designer Stefano Gualeni created the game after traveling the world asking people what constitutes soup. After interviewing candidates of 23 different nationalities, he concluded that the definition of soup "depends on the region, historical period, and the person with whom you're speaking."

Gualeni took this real-life confusion and applied it to a sci-fi setting. In Something Something Soup Something, you play as a low-wage extra-terrestrial worker in the year 2078 preparing meals for human clientele. Your job is to determine which dishes pass as "soup" and can be served to the hungry guests while avoiding any items that may end up poisoning them. Options might include "rocks with celery and batteries in a cup served with chopsticks" or a "foamy liquid with a candy cane and a cooked egg served in a bowl with a fork."

The five-minute game is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but Gualeni also hopes to get people thinking about real philosophical questions. According to its description page, the game is meant to reveal "that even a familiar, ordinary concept like 'soup' is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively."

You can try out Something Something Soup Something for free on your browser.

[h/t Waypoint]

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Why Do Ghosts Say ‘Boo’?
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People have screamed "boo," or at least some version of it, to startle others since the mid-16th century. (One of the earliest examples documented by the Oxford English Dictionary appeared in that 1560s poetic thriller, Smyth Whych that Forged Hym a New Dame.) But ghosts? They’ve only been yowling "boo" for less than two centuries.

The etymology of boo is uncertain. The OED compares it with the Latin boare or the Greek βοᾶν, meaning to “cry aloud, roar, [or] shout.” Older dictionaries suggest it could be an onomatopoeia mimicking the lowing of a cow.

Whatever the origins, the word had a slightly different shade of meaning a few hundred years ago: Boo (or, in the olden days, bo or bu) was not used to frighten others but to assert your presence. Take the traditional Scottish proverb “He can’t say bo to a goose,” which for centuries has been a slick way to call somebody timid or sheepish. Or consider the 1565 story Smyth Whych that Forged Hym a New Dame, in which an overconfident blacksmith tries to hammer a woman back into her youth, and the main character demands of his dying experiment: “Speke now, let me se / and say ones bo!”

Or, as Donatello would put it: “Speak, damn you, speak!”

But boo became scarier with time. After all, as the OED notes, the word is phonetically suited “to produce a loud and startling sound.” And by 1738, Gilbert Crokatt was writing in Presbyterian Eloquence Display’d that, “Boo is a Word that's used in the North of Scotland to frighten crying children.”

(We’re not here to question 250-year-old Scottish parenting techniques, but over at Slate, Forrest Wickman raises a good point: Why would anybody want to frighten a child who is already crying?)

In 18th century Scotland, bo, boo, and bu would latch onto plenty of words describing things that went bump in the night. According to the Dictionary of the Scots Language, the term bu-kow applied to hobgoblins and “anything frightful,” such as scarecrows. The word bogey, for “evil one,” would evolve into bogeyman. And there’s bu-man, or boo-man, a terrifying goblin that haunted man:

Kings, counsellors, and princes fair,

As weel's the common ploughman,

Hae maist their pleasures mix'd wi' care,

An' dread some muckle boo-man.

It was only a matter of time until ghosts got lumped into this creepy “muckle boo-man” crowd.

Which is too bad. Before the early 1800s, ghosts were believed to be eloquent, sometimes charming, and very often literary speakers. The spirits that appeared in the works of the Greek playwrights Euripides and Seneca held the important job of reciting the play’s prologue. The apparitions in Shakespeare’s plays conversed in the same swaying iambic pentameter as the living. But by the mid-1800s, more literary ghosts apparently lost interest in speaking in complete sentences. Take this articulate exchange with a specter from an 1863 Punch and Judy script.

Ghost: Boo-o-o-oh!

Punch: A-a-a-ah!

Ghost: Boo-o-o-o-oh!

Punch: Oh dear ! oh dear ! It wants’t me!

Ghost:  Boo-o-o-o-oh!

It’s no surprise that boo’s popularity rose in the mid-19th century. This was the age of spiritualism, a widespread cultural obsession with paranormal phenomena that sent scores of people flocking to mediums and clairvoyants in hopes of communicating with the dead. Serious scientists were sending electrical shocks through the bodies of corpses to see if reanimating the dead was possible; readers were engrossed in terrifying Gothic fiction (think Frankenstein, Zastrozzi, and The Vampyre); British police departments were reporting a heightened number of ghost sightings as graveyards were plagued by “ghost impersonators,” hoaxsters who camped out in cemeteries covered in white robes and pale chalk. It’s probably no coincidence that ghosts began to develop their own vocabulary—limited as it may be—during a period when everybody was curious about the goings-on within the spirit realm.

It may also help that boo was Scottish. Many of our Halloween traditions, such as the carving of jack-o’-lanterns, were carried overseas by Celtic immigrants. Scotland was a great exporter of people in the middle of the 1800s, and perhaps it’s thanks to the Scots-Irish diaspora that boo became every ghost’s go-to greeting.

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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