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Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

50 Old British Dialect Words We Should Bring Back

Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (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 right 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 (1787), 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 which 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)

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Words
15 Wintry Words for Snowy Weather Across the United States
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While the “Eskimos have 100 words for snow” debate remains up in the (cold, cold) air, we do know—thanks in large part to the folks at the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE)—that Americans have no lack of idioms for the chilly white stuff. Here are 15 of them from all over the United States.

1. CAT’S TRACK

A long-haired tabby cat playing in the snow.
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When there’s a light fall of snow, you can call it cat’s track, a term used in Maine, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Wisconsin. A resident from the Badger State says, “If there is enough snow to track a cat, there has been a snowfall.” Conversely, not much snow can be described as “not enough snow to track a cat.”

2. SKIFT

A little girl rubbing her nose on the carrot nose of a snowman while snow falls.
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Skift refers to a light fall of snow, according to DARE, as well as a “thin layer of snow or frost on the ground, or of ice on water.” The use of the term is widespread across the U.S. except in the Northeast, South, and Southwest.

3. SKIMP

A pond covered in a thin layer of ice and snow.
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If someone in Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana, or north-central Arkansas says, “Watch out for that skimp,” better take heed. They’re talking about a thin layer of ice or snow. Skimp can also be a verb meaning to freeze in a thin coating.

4. GOOSE DOWN

Two Canadian geese on a frozen pond.
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Get a light snow in Alabama? You can call it goose down.

5. GOOSEFEATHERS

A white feather on a black background.
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In Vermont, large, soft flakes of snow might be referred to as goosefeathers.

6. THE OLD WOMAN IS PICKING HER GEESE

Five Canadian geese in a snow storm.
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This colorful idiom for “It’s snowing” is especially used in the Appalachians, along with “The old woman’s a-losin’ her feathers.” Meanwhile, in Kentucky, you might hear Aunt Dinah’s picking her geese.

7. SCUTCH

A forest in a flurry of snow.
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Another term for a light dusting or flurry of snow, this time in Delaware. Scutch might come from scuds, a word of Scottish origin meaning ale or beer.

8. SNOW SQUALL

Pedestrians and cars in the snow.
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Why say snow shower when you can say snow squall? This chiefly Northeast saying refers to “a sudden snowstorm of short duration.” Its earliest recorded usage in American English is from 1775.

9. FLOUR-SIFTER SNOW

Flour being sifted in front of a black background.
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The next time you’re in Montana surrounded by small-flaked snow, you can say, “We’ve got some flour-sifter snow!”

10. CORN SNOW

Brown stalks of corn in the snow.
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You know it and you hate it: that granular, kernel-like snow that’s the result of repeated thawing and freezing. The term corn snow is used in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Oregon.

11. HOMINY SNOW

Three snowmen wearing bright scarves and hats.
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If grits are more up your alley, there’s hominy snow, a saying native to the South Midland states. The word hominy, referring to a kind of boiled ground corn, is Native American in origin, possibly coming from the Algonquian uskatahomen, “parched corn.”

12. GRAMPEL

Snow and hail on wood.
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This term in northeast Washington and southwest Oregon for a snow pellet that’s “somewhat like hail” is probably a variant on graupel, “soft hail.” Graupel is German in origin and comes from graupel wetter, which translates literally as “sleet weather.”

13. SNIRT

Dirty snow marked with tire tracks.
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While it might sound like a cross between a snort and a snicker, this Upper Midwest term actually refers to a mix of windblown snow and dirt. The moniker itself is a blend too, namely of the words—you guessed it—snow and dirt.

14. SPOSH

A man shoveling slushy snow in a driveway.
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Back in the day, New Englanders called slush sposh, which also referred to mud. The word is probably imitative in origin and might be influenced by words like slush, slosh, and splash.

15. POST-HOLING

A close-up of a person's legs, feet covered in snow.
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Ever walk in snow so deep you sink with every step? That’s post-holing or post-holing it, a saying in Colorado, Arkansas, Montana, and northwest Massachusetts. The post here refers to a fence post and hole to the hole created to secure it in the ground. Now we just need a word for sinking up to your knee when you step off a curb into slush that you’ve mistaken for ice.

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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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