50 Old British Dialect Words We Should Bring Back

Rebecca O'Connell (Hulton Archive/Getty Images) (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (Hulton Archive/Getty Images) (iStock)

In 1905, the Oxford University Press published the sixth and final volume of The English Dialect Dictionary, a compilation of local British words and phrases dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The EDD set out to record all those words used too sparsely and too locally to make the cut in the Oxford English Dictionary, and by 1905, more than 70,000 entries from across the British Isles had been compiled, defined, and explained. The entire enterprise was personally overseen (and, in its early stages at least, partly funded) by Joseph Wright, a self-taught linguist and etymologist who went from attending French and Latin night classes while working in a textiles factory to becoming Professor of Philology at Oxford University. Although Wright published a number of other works during his lifetime, The English Dialect Dictionary is by far his greatest achievement, and is still regarded as one of the finest dictionaries of its type.

The 50 words listed here are all genuine entries taken from Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary as well as a number of other equally fantastic local British glossaries, including John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808), Francis Grose’s Glossary of Provincial and Local Words Used in England (1839) , and John Ray’s Collection of South and East-Country Words (1691). Ranging from the bizarre to the useful, they all would make a brilliant addition to anyone’s vocabulary.

1. APTYCOCK: A quick-witted or intelligent young man. (SW England)

2. BANG-A-BONK: It might not look like it, but this is a verb meaning “to sit lazily on a riverbank.” (Gloucestershire)

3. BAUCHLE: A name for an old worn-out shoe, and in particular one that no longer has a heel—although it was also used figuratively to refer to a pointless or useless person. (Ireland)

4. CLIMB-TACK: A cat that likes to walk along high shelves or picture rails is a climb-tack. (Yorkshire)

5. CLOMPH: To walk in shoes that are too large for your feet. (Central England)

6. CRAMBO-CLINK: Also known as crambo-jink, this is a word for poor quality poetry—or, figuratively, a long-winded and ultimately pointless conversation. (Scots)

7. CRINKIE-WINKIE: A groundless misgiving, or a poor reason for not doing something. (Scots)

8. CRUM-A-GRACKLE: Any awkward or difficult situation. (SW England)

9. CRUMPSY: Short-tempered and irritable. Probably a local variation of “grumpy.” (Central England)

10. CUDDLE-ME-BUFF: Why call it beer when you can call it cuddle-me-buff? (Yorkshire)

11. CULF: The loose feathers that come out of a mattress or cushion—and which “adhere to the clothes of any one who has lain upon it,” according to Wright. (Cornwall)

12. CURECKITYCOO: To coo like a dove—or, figuratively, to flirt and canoodle with someone. (Scots)

13. DAUNCY: If someone looks noticeably unwell, then they’re dauncy. Originally an Irish and northern English word, this eventually spread into colloquial American English in the 19th century. (Ireland)

14. DOUP-SCUD: Defined by Wright as “a heavy fall on the buttocks.” (NE Scots)

15. EEDLE-DODDLE: A person who shows no initiative in a crisis. Also used as an adjective to mean “negligent,” or “muddle-headed.” (Scots)

16. FAUCHLE: Fumbling things and making mistakes at work because you’re so tired? That’s fauchling. (Scots)

17. FLENCH: When the weather looks like it’s going to improve but it never does, then it’s flenched. (Scots)

18. FLOBY-MOBLY: The perfect word for describing the feeling of not being unwell, but still not quite feeling your best. A Scots equivalent was atweesh-an-atween. (Central England)

19. HANSPER: Pain and stiffness felt in the legs after a long walk. (Scots)

20. INISITIJITTY: A worthless, ridiculous-looking person. (Central England)

21. JEDDARTY-JIDDARTY: Also spelled jiggerdy-jaggardy. Either way it means entwined or tangled. (NW England)

22. LENNOCHMORE: A larger-than-average baby. Comes from the Gaelic leanabh mor, meaning “big child.” (Scots)

23. LIMPSEY: Limp and flaccid, often used in reference to someone just before they faint. Originally from the easternmost counties of England, but borrowed into the United States in the 1800s—Walt Whitman and Harriet Beecher Stowe both used it in their writing. (East England)

24. MUNDLE: As a verb, mundle means to do something clumsily, or to be hampered or interrupted while trying to work. As a noun, a mundle is a cake slice or a wooden spatula—"to lick the mundle but burn your tongue" means to do something enjoyable, regardless of the consequences. (Central England)

25. NAWPY: A new pen. (Lincolnshire)

26. NIPPERKIN: A small gulp or draught of a drink, said to be roughly equal to one-eighth of a pint. (SW England)

27. OMPERLODGE: To disagree with or contradict someone. (Bedfordshire)

28. OUTSPECKLE: A laughing stock. (Scots)

29. PADDY-NODDY: A long and tedious story. (Lincolnshire)

30. PARWHOBBLE: To monopolize a conversation. (SW England)

31. PEG-PUFF: Defined as “a young woman with the manners of an old one.” (Northern England)

32. POLRUMPTIOUS: Raucous. Rude. Disruptive. Polrumptious. (Kent)

33. QUAALTAGH: The first person you see after you leave your house. Comes from an old Celtic New Year tradition in which the first person you see or speak to on the morning of January 1, the quaaltagh, was interpreted as a sign of what was to come in the year ahead. (Isle of Man)

34. RAZZLE: To cook something so that the outside of it burns, but the inside of it stays raw. You can also razzle yourself by warming yourself by a fire. (Yorkshire/East England)

35. SHACKBAGGERLY: An adjective describing anything left “in a loose, disorderly manner.” (Lincolnshire)

36. SHIVVINESS: The uncomfortable feeling of wearing new underwear. Shiv is an old word for thick, coarse wool or linen. (Yorkshire)

37. SILLERLESS: Literally “silverless”—or, in other words, completely broke. (Scots)

38. SLITHERUM: A dawdling, slow-moving person. (East England)

39. SLIVING: A thin slice of bread or meat, or a splinter of wood. (Yorkshire)

40. SLOCHET: To walk with your shoes nearly coming off your feet. Or to walk with your shoelaces untied. Or to walk slowly because your shoes are too big. (SW England)

41. SPINKIE-DEN: A woodland clearing full of flowers. (Scots)

42. TEWLY-STOMACHED: On its own, tewly means weak or sickly, or overly sensitive or delicate. Someone who is tewly-stomached has a weak stomach, or a poor constitution. (East England)

43. THALTHAN: Also spelled tholthan, a thalthan is a part-derelict building. (Isle of Man)

44. TITTY-TOIT: To spruce or tidy up. (Yorkshire)

45. UNCHANCY: Sometimes used to mean mischievous or unlucky, but also used to describe something potentially dangerous, or, according to Wright, “not safe to meddle with.” (Northern England)

46. VARGLE: Means either to work in a messy or untidy way, or to perform an unpleasant task. (Scots)

47. VARTIWELL: The little metal loop that the latch of a gate hooks into? That’s the vartiwell. According to the OED, it probably takes its name from an old French word for the bottom hinge of a gate, vervelle. (Eastern England)

48. WEATHER-MOUTH: A bright, sunny patch of sky on the horizon flanked by two dense banks of cloud is the weather-mouth. (Scots)

49. YAWMAGORP: A yawm is a yawn, and a gorp is a mouth. So a yawmagorp is a lounger or idler, or someone who seems constantly to be yawning and stretching wearily. (Yorkshire)

50. ZWODDER: The last entry in the English Dialect Dictionary describes “a drowsy, stupid state of body or mind.” It’s probably related to another word, swadder, used to mean “to grow weary with drinking.” (SW England)

This article first ran in 2014.

What's the Difference Between Tequila and Mezcal?

iStock.com/mediaphotos
iStock.com/mediaphotos

Aside from tacos, enchiladas, and other tasty tortilla-wrapped treats, tequila and mezcal are among some of Mexico’s best-known offerings in the food and beverage category. These tipples, made from the agave plant, are so embedded in the country’s culture that Mexico City even has a museum dedicated to the two drinks, and Jose Cuervo operates a "tequila train" to none other than the city of Tequila. These beverages can be used to make a variety of cocktails, from the tequila sunrise to the mezcalita, but unless you’re a bartender or a connoisseur of spirits, you might not know the difference between the two. Is mezcal just fancier tequila?

Not exactly. Tequila is a type of mezcal, but the reverse isn’t always true. It’s similar to the distinction between champagne and sparkling wine, in which the name of the beverage depends on whether it was produced in the Champagne region of France or elsewhere. While mezcal can be produced anywhere in Mexico, tequila is made in the Mexican state of Jalisco (though a few exceptions do apply).

Tequila and mezcal also differ in the ingredients from which they are derived. Mezcal can come from any of the dozens of agave plants—a type of desert succulent—that are grown throughout Mexico. Tequila is made specifically from blue agave and, depending on the variety and brand, a bottle will contain between 51 percent and 100 percent of the plant-based nectar. According to The Tierra Group, a wholesaler of agave products, blue agave nectar is especially sweet because it’s 80 percent fructose, per Mexico’s regulations.

Lastly, tequila and mezcal taste different because of the ways in which they are prepared. Mezcal tends to have a savory, smoky, earthy flavor because the agave hearts (or piñas) are left cooking for several days in a fire pit that has been lined with volcanic rock and covered with agave leaves and earth. The piñas destined to end up in tequila, on the other hand, are often cooked in a brick oven, then crushed up to extract the juice.

If you ever feel adventurous at the liquor store and decide to bring home a bottle of mezcal, just keep in mind that there’s a particular way to drink it. “The first mistake many people make is pouring mezcal in a shot glass and pouring it down their throat,” Chris Reyes, a mixologist at New York City’s Temerario bar and restaurant told Liquor.com. Instead, the spirit is best sipped in a clay cup known as a jicarita.

Some words of advice if you do go shopping for mezcal: If you ever see a worm at the bottom of the bottle, that means it’s probably not a very good mezcal, according to Reyes. By contrast, tequila bottles should never have worms in them (despite the common misconception). So if you’re looking to avoid invertebrate-infused concoctions at all costs, tequila is your best bet.

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15 Animal Names That Can Be Used As Verbs

iStock.com/fotojagodka
iStock.com/fotojagodka

People can go fishing, rabbit on incessantly, dog one another, and horse around. But because of their usefulness in completing burdensome work, horse has also been used in (originally naval) slang since the mid-19th century to mean “to work to the point of exhaustion”—or, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, “to drive or urge at work unfairly or tyrannically.” But horses aren’t the only animals whose names can be “verbed.” From turtles to tigers, you can drop any one of these 15 creatures into your everyday conversation.

1. Bulldog

No one is entirely sure why bulldogs are called bulldogs, with different theories pointing to everything from their bull-like stature to their bullish faces to the fact that they might once have been bred to bait bulls. Whatever the origin, the bulldog’s strength and its robust, resilient behavior means that you can use its name as a verb meaning “to attack roughly,” or “to wrestle to the ground.”

2. Tiger

A tiger
iStock.com/konmesa

If you tiger, then you walk to and fro, like a tiger pacing in a cage. If you tiger something, then you paint or mark it with contrasting stripes.

3. Spider

Jumping spider
iStock.com/elthar2007

As well as being used simply to mean “to creep” or “to move like a spider,” if you ensnare or entrap something, or else cover it in a cobweb-like pattern, then you spider it.

4. Cat

British shorthair cat with expressive orange eyes
iStock.com/Leesle

Because the cathead is the horizontal beam at the bow of a ship that’s used to raise an anchor, the word cat has a number of nautical uses as a verb, including “to lift an anchor from the water,” “to secure an anchor,” and “to draw an anchor through the water.” But because shooting the cat was 19th century slang for being sick from drinking too much, you can also use cat to mean “to vomit.”

5. Vulture

White-backed vulture
iStock.com/EcoPic

Vultures’ grim feeding habits and their remarkable flying ability have given the word two meanings as a verb in English. Feel free to use it to mean “to eat voraciously” or “to tear at your food,” or else “to descend steadily through the air.”

6. Owl

Owl in flight
iStock.com/WhitcombeRD

Owling (as well as being a short-lived social media craze) was once the name given to the crime of smuggling sheep and wool from England to the continent—a crime so-called because the nefarious “owlers” carried out their crimes at night. That might not be the most useful of words these days of course, so feel free to also use owl to mean “to act wisely, despite not knowing anything.”

7. Shark

It’s easy to presume that the use of shark as a verb to mean “to act like a predator” (which is the same shark as in loanshark, incidentally) derives from the deadly sea creatures. In fact, it might be the opposite: Both meanings of the word shark date back to the late 16th century, but it’s possible that the verb shark is the older of the two. If so, it’s possible that it comes from the earlier word shirk (in the sense of using deceit or trickery to avoid work) or else a northeastern French word, cherquier, which was often used in a phrase that essentially meant “to sponge of others” or “to act as a parasite.” So how did sea-dwelling sharks come to be called sharks? It’s possible the deceitful sharks gave their name to the menacing creatures, or else the two could be completely unrelated—and, thanks to a sea battle off the Yucatan peninsula in 1569, shark could in fact be a Mayan word.

8. Monkey

Chimpanzee looking surprised
iStock.com/photomaru

As well as meaning “to play the fool” or “to behave playfully”—as in “monkeying around”—monkey, like ape, can also be used to mean “to mimic” or “to copy someone’s movements or actions.”

9. Turtle

If a boat “turns turtle,” then it capsizes and flips over, so that it looks like a turtle’s domed shell floating atop the water. Because of that, to turtle something is to turn it upside down.

10. Snail

Burgundy snail
iStock.com/AlexRaths

For obvious reasons, snail has been used to mean “to move slowly” since the late 16th century, but because of the snail’s coiled shell, you can also use snail to mean “to draw or carve a spiral,” or “to roll into a spiral shape.”

11. Porcupine

Porcupine walking
iStock.com/ser-y-star

When your hair stands on end, feel free to say that it porcupined.

12. Canary

Canary birds take their name from the Canary Islands, which, somewhat confusingly, take their name from canis, the Latin word for “dog.” But in the 16th and 17th centuries, the canary was also the name of an energetic dance inspired by a traditional dance performed by the natives of the Canary Islands. And because of that, you can also use the word canary as a verb meaning “to dance in a lively fashion.”

13. Earwig

Earwig
iStock.com/Mr_Fu

Earwigs are so-called because they were once (thankfully erroneously) thought to crawl inside people’s ears as they slept. Through association with someone whispering clandestinely into someone’s ear, in the late 18th century eavesdroppers and people who seeked to secretly influence others became known as earwiggers—and so to earwig is to do precisely that.

14. Pig

Cute pig leaning on railing of his cot
iStock.com/Fotosmurf03

Pig has been used to mean “to give birth” since as far back as the 15th century in English (a fairly uncomplimentary allusion to a pregnant sow delivering a litter of piglets). But slightly less depreciatively, the living habits of pigs mean that it can also be used to mean “to huddle together,” or else “to live or sleep in crowded or dirty conditions.”

15. Dingo

A dingo
iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

Because of their stereotypically sneaky behavior, to dingo on someone meant “to let down” or “to betray” them in 1930s Australian slang, while to dingo meant simply “to shirk” or “to back out of something at the last minute.”

This list first ran in 2016.

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