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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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Words
What's the Longest Word in the World? Here are 12 of Them, By Category
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Antidisestablishmentarianism, everyone’s favorite agglutinative, entered the pop culture lexicon on August 17, 1955, when Gloria Lockerman, a 12-year-old girl from Baltimore, correctly spelled it on The $64,000 Question as millions of people watched from their living rooms. At 28 letters, the word—which is defined as a 19th-century British political movement that opposes proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England—is still regarded as the longest non-medical, non-coined, nontechnical word in the English language, yet it keeps some robust company. Here are some examples of the longest words by category.

1. METHIONYLTHREONYLTHREONYGLUTAMINYLARGINYL … ISOLEUCINE 

Note the ellipses. All told, the full chemical name for the human protein titin is 189,819 letters, and takes about three-and-a-half hours to pronounce. The problem with including chemical names is that there’s essentially no limit to how long they can be. For example, naming a single strand of DNA, with its millions and millions of repeating base pairs, could eventually tab out at well over 1 billion letters.

2. LOPADOTEMACHOSELACHOGALEOKRANIOLEIPSAN …P TERYGON

The longest word ever to appear in literature comes from Aristophanes’ play, Assemblywomen, published in 391 BC. The Greek word tallies 171 letters, but translates to 183 in English. This mouthful refers to a fictional fricassee comprised of rotted dogfish head, wrasse, wood pigeon, and the roasted head of a dabchick, among other culinary morsels. 

3. PNEUMONOULTRAMICROSCOPICSILICOVOLCANOCONIOSIS

At 45 letters, this is the longest word you’ll find in a major dictionary. An inflated version of silicosis, this is the full scientific name for a disease that causes inflammation in the lungs owing to the inhalation of very fine silica dust. Despite its inclusion in the dictionary, it’s generally considered superfluous, having been coined simply to claim the title of the longest English word.

4. PARASTRATIOSPHECOMYIA STRATIOSPHECOMYIOIDES 

The longest accepted binomial construction, at 42 letters, is a species of soldier fly native to Thailand. With a lifespan of five to eight days, it’s unlikely one has ever survived long enough to hear it pronounced correctly.

5. PSEUDOPSEUDOHYPOPARATHYROIDISM

This 30-letter thyroid disorder is the longest non-coined word to appear in a major dictionary.

6. FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION

By virtue of having one more letter than antidisestablishmentarianism, this is the longest non-technical English word. A mash-up of five Latin roots, it refers to the act of describing something as having little or no value. While it made the cut in the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster volumes refuse to recognize it, chalking up its existence to little more than linguistic ephemera.

7. SUBDERMATOGLYPHIC

At 17 characters, this is the longest accepted isogram, a word in which every letter is used only once, and refers to the underlying dermal matrix that determines the pattern formed by the whorls, arches, and ridges of our fingerprints. 

8. SQUIRRELLED

Though the more commonly accepted American English version carries only one L, both Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries recognize this alternate spelling and condone its one syllable pronunciation (think “world”), making it the longest non-coined monosyllabic English word at 11 letters.

9. ABSTENTIOUS

One who doesn’t indulge in excesses, especially food and drink; at 11 letters this is the longest word to use all five vowels in order exactly once.

10. ROTAVATOR 

A type of soil tiller, the longest non-coined palindromic word included in an English dictionary tallies nine letters. Detartrated, 11 letters, appears in some chemical glossaries, but is generally considered too arcane to qualify.

11. and 12. CWTCH, EUOUAE

The longest words to appear in a major dictionary comprised entirely of either vowels or consonants. A Cwtch, or crwth, is from the Welsh word for a hiding place. Euouae, a medieval musical term, is technically a mnemonic, but has been accepted as a word in itself. 

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grammar
The Grammar Rules of 3 Commonly Disparaged Dialects 
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Linguists are always taken aback by the overwhelmingly negative and sometimes virulently expressed reaction they get when stating something that every linguist believes (and linguists do not agree on everything!) in a rather uncomplicated way: Every dialect has a grammar.

"Every dialect has a grammar" does not mean "everything is relative, and let's throw away all the dictionaries, and no one should go to school anymore, and I should be able to wear a bath towel to a job interview if I damn well please." What it means is that all dialects, from the very fanciest to the ones held in lowest esteem, are rule-governed systems. Here are three examples from three different commonly disparaged dialects that illustrate how dialects have grammar.

1. Appalachian a-prefixing

One of the most noticeable features of Appalachian English, which has been studied extensively by the linguists Walt Wolfram and Donna Christian, is the a- prefix that attaches to verbs. When people want to mock "hick" speech, they often scatter a-prefixed words around like "a-goin'" and "a-huntin'" and "a-fishin'," but if they don't actually speak the dialect, they usually make mistakes. That is because they don't know the rules of where a-prefixing can apply, and where it can't.

Rules? Yes, rules. To someone who speaks an a-prefixing dialect this sounds right: "He was a-huntin'."

But these sound wrong:

He likes a-huntin'.
Those a-screamin' children didn't bother me.
He makes money by a-buildin' houses.

It is not the case that a-prefixes can attach to any old word ending in -ing. They can attach to verbs, as in the first example. But not to gerunds (a verb serving as a noun for a general action), adjectives, or objects of prepositions, as in the other examples. The fact that those examples sound wrong to dialect speakers shows that there are conditions on where a-prefixes can go. The fact that those conditions can be described in terms of verbs, gerunds, adjectives, and prepositions show that the conditions have to do with the linguistic structure of sentences. A condition that depends on linguistic structure is a rule. A system of these rules is a grammar. This is what linguists mean when they talk about the grammar of a dialect.

People who speak this dialect don't learn these rules from a book. They know them implicitly, even if they can't describe them, the same way you know "I gave him a dollar" sounds good but "I donated him a dollar" sounds bad (even if you've never heard of linguistic argument structure). Their use of the dialect is not whimsical and random, but governed by those rules. Someone who doesn't follow those rules, e.g., in a hamfisted attempt to mock the dialect, can be said to be speaking ungrammatical Appalachian English.

2. Southern American English "liketa"

Often features that are seen as sloppy pronunciations of Standard English show themselves on closer inspection to be used in a non-sloppy, highly consistent way—but according to a different set of rules. In the Alabama dialect studied by linguist Crawford Feagin, speakers say things like, "She liketa killed me!", meaning that she just about started to kill me, but didn't. This "liketa" is not just a shortening of "would have liked to"; it's also possible to say "I liketa had a heart attack."

"Liketa" is close to being a substitute for "almost," but it doesn't behave exactly like that word either; you can ask "did you almost die?" but not "did you liketa died?"

"Liketa" is not just a lazy version of Standard English. You can describe the conditions for its use—the rules of "liketa." As Feagin says, it "occurs in both positive and negative sentences, but not in questions and commands. It may co-occur with the intensifier 'just'; it always occurs in the past." Because rules govern "liketa," it is possible to break those rules, and if you do you can be said to be using it ungrammatically.

3. African-American English stressed "BIN"

African-American English has a number of distinguishing features, one of them being the use of "stressed BIN," described by linguist John Rickford. It carries the main stress of the sentence and is distinct from unstressed "been." It occurs in sentences like "she BIN married," which does not mean "she has been married." It means "she is married, and has been for a long time."

Stressed BIN is like a remote past tense, something that Standard English lacks a simple marker for. It can also be used in places where Standard "been" would not occur, such as "I BIN ate it" (I ate it a long time ago).

There are structural conditions on where stressed BIN can and cannot occur. Its use is governed by rules. As linguist Lisa Green points out, it can't be moved to the front of the sentence for questions (BIN John and Lisa dating?) or used in a tagged question at the end (She BIN married, binn't she?), and it can't be used with phrases indicating a specific time (I BIN asked him bout that three weeks ago). Because there are grammatical conditions for the use of stressed BIN, it is possible to use it the wrong way, as nearly everyone who tries to mock it does.

More explanations of these phenomena and others can be found at the Yale Grammatical Diversity project, the mission of which is to serve as "a crucial source of data for the development of theories of human linguistic knowledge." However you feel about dialects and whether they are worthy of respect, the fact that human ways of speaking always settle into rule-governed systems, all describable in terms of the same set of basic linguistic concepts—that, at the very least, is pretty darn interesting. And frankly, the more you pursue what's interesting about it, the less emotional your judgments about dialects become.

This post originally appeared in 2013.

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