42 Old English Insults

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Besides being the greatest writer in the history of the English language, William Shakespeare was the master of the pithy put-down. So the nervous servant who tells Macbeth his castle is under attack is dismissed as a “cream-faced loon.” Oswald in King Lear isn’t just a useless idiot, he’s a “whoreson zed,” an “unnecessary letter.” Lear’s ungrateful daughter Goneril is “a plague-sore,” an “embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.” And when Falstaff doubts something Mistress Quickly has said in Henry IV: Part 1, he claims, “there’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.” (And there’s a good chance he didn’t intend “stewed prune” to mean dried fruit.) But you don’t have to rely just on Shakespeare to spice up your vocabulary. Next time someone winds you up or you need to win an argument in fine style, why not try dropping one of these old-fashioned insults into your conversation? 

1. ABYDOCOMIST

Abydos was a city in Ancient Egypt whose inhabitants, according to one 19th century dictionary, “were famous for inventing slanders and boasting of them.” Whether that’s true or not, the name Abydos is the origin of abydocomist—a liar who brags about their lies. 

2. BEDSWERVER

An adulterer. Another of Shakespeare’s inventions that became popular in Victorian slang.

3. BESPAWLER

To bespawl means to spit or dribble. A bespawler is a slobbering person, who spits when he talks. 

4. BOBOLYNE

An old Tudor English word for a fool. Coined by the 15th-16th century poet John Skelton (who was one of Henry VIII’s schoolteachers). 

5. CUMBERWORLD

Also called a cumberground—someone who is so useless, they just serve to take up space. 

6. DALCOP

Cop is an old word for the head, making a dalcop (literally a “dull-head”) a particularly stupid person. You can also be a harecop, or a “hare-brained” person. 

7. DEW-BEATER

An 18th century word for an especially large shoe, and consequently a clumsy or awkward person.

8. DORBEL

As well as being another name for a nincompoop, a dorbel is a petty, nit-picking teacher. It’s derived from the name of an old French scholar named Nicolas d’Orbellis, who was well known as a supporter of the much-derided philosopher John Duns Scotus (whose followers were the original “dunces”).

9. DRATE-POKE

An old English dialect word for someone who drawls or speaks indistinctly.

10. DRIGGLE-DRAGGLE

An untidy woman. 

11. FOPDOODLE

An insignificant or foolish man.

12. FUSTYLUGS 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this term for “a woman of gross or corpulent habit” is derived from fusty, in the sense of something that’s gone off or gone stale. 

13. FUSTILARIAN

Another of Shakespeare’s best put-downs, coined in Henry IV, Part 2: "Away, you scullion! You rampallion! You fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe," Falstaff exclaims. If not just a variation of fustylugs, he likely meant it to mean someone who stubbornly wastes time on worthless things. 

14. GILLIE-WET-FOOT

An old Scots word for a swindling businessman, or someone who gets into debt and then flees.

15. GNASHGAB

An 18th century northern English word for someone who only ever seems to complain. 

16. GOBERMOUCH

An old Irish word for a nosy, prying person who likes to interfere in other people’s business. 

17. GOWPENFUL-O’-ANYTHING 

A gowpen is the bowl formed by cupping your hands together, while a gowpenful-o’-anything is “a contemptuous term applied to one who is a medley of everything absurd,” according to the English Dialect Dictionary

18. KLAZOMANIAC

Someone who only seems able to speak by shouting. 

19. LEASING-MONGER

A leasing is an old word for an untruth or falsehood, making a leasing-monger or a leasing-maker a habitual liar. 

20. LOITER-SACK 

This is a 17th century term for a slacker. An idling, lazy good-for-nothing. Literally, someone who seems to spend all day in bed.

21. LUBBERWORT

In the 16th century, lubberwort was the name of an imaginary plant that was supposed to cause sluggishness or stupidity, and ultimately came to be used as a nickname for a lethargic, fuzzy-minded person.

22. MUCK-SPOUT

A dialect word for someone who not only talks a lot, but who seems to constantly swear. 

23. MUMBLECRUST

Derived from the name of a stock character in medieval theatrical farces, a mumblecrust is a toothless beggar. 

24. QUISBY

In Victorian English, doing quisby meant shirking from work or lazing around. A quisby was someone who did just that.

25. RAGGABRASH

A disorganized or grubby person. 

26. RAKEFIRE

A visitor who outstays his or her welcome. Originally, someone who stays so late the dying coals in the fireplace would need to be raked over just to keep it burning. 

27. ROIDERBANKS

Someone who lives beyond their means, or seems to spend extravagantly.

28. SADDLE-GOOSE

Saddling geese is a proverbially pointless exercise, so anyone who wastes their time doing it—namely, a saddle-goose—must be an imbecile. 

29. SCOBBERLOTCHER

Probably derived from scopperloit, an old English dialect word for a vacation or a break from work, a scobberlotcher is someone who never works hard. 

30. SKELPIE-LIMMER

A badly-behaved child. Coined by the Scottish poet Robert Burns from the old Scots word skelpie, meaning “misbehaving” or “deserving punishment.” 

31. SMELL-FEAST

Someone who turns up uninvited at a meal or party and expects to be fed.

32. SMELLFUNGUS

When Laurence Sterne (author of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy) met the Scottish writer Tobias Smollett (author of The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle) in Italy in 1764, he was amazed by how critical Smollett was of all the places he had visited. Smollett returned home and published his Travels Through France and Italy in 1766, and in response Sterne published his Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy two years later. Part-novel, part-travelogue, Sterne’s book featured a grumblingly quarrelsome character called Smelfungus, who was modeled on Smollett. The name soon came to be used of any buzz-killing faultfinder—an in particular someone who always finds fault in the places they visit.

33. SNOUTBAND

Someone who constantly interrupts a conversation, typically only to contradict or correct someone else.

34. SORNER 

Sorning was the 16th century equivalent of mooching or sponging, and so a sorner is someone who unappreciatively lives off other people.

35. STAMPCRAB

A heavy-footed, clumsy person. 

36. STYMPHALIST

In Greek mythology, one of The Twelve Labors of Hercules was to destroy the Stymphalian birds, a flock of monstrous, man-eating birds with metal beaks and feathers, who produced a stinking and highly toxic guano. A Stymphalist is someone who smells just as unpleasant. 

37. TALLOWCATCH

Another of Shakespeare’s inventions directed at the gross, womanizing knight Falstaff in Henry IV, Part 1. It’s probably derived from “tallow ketch,” literally “a barrel of fat.”

38. TRIPTAKER

A finicky, fault-finding pedant. 

39. WANDOUGHT

A weak and ineffectual man. (Wandoughty is an old word for impotence. Say no more.) 

40. WHIFFLE-WHAFFLE

An indecisive, time-wasting ditherer. 

41. YALDSON

A 15th century word literally meaning “the son of a prostitute.” 

42. ZOILIST

Zoilus was a Greek grammarian who became known as one of the most vitriolic critics of Homer, author of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Consequently, a zoilist is an overly-critical and judgmental nitpicker.

35 Outlawed Baby Names From Around the World

kirza/iStock via Getty Images
kirza/iStock via Getty Images

Here in the U.S., we give parents a lot of leeway when it comes to naming their children. New Jersey only bans names that include obscenities, numerals, or symbols, so the Campbells were totally in the clear when naming their children Adolf Hitler and JoyceLynn Aryan Nation. And no one could stop Penn Jillette from naming his daughter Moxie Crimefighter.

Other parts of the world aren’t as liberal when it comes to baby-naming. In 2017, the Swiss court in Zurich ruled against a couple who wanted to use "J" as one of their daughter’s middle names, as a tribute to her great-grandparents, Johanna and Josef. Their reasoning for the objection? That it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the child and that others would be prompted to put a period after the name when it wasn’t an abbreviation. (The court suggested the much-more-acceptable "Jo" instead.) Here are 35 examples of baby names that, for one reason or another, were deemed unfit for a birth certificate.

1. Nutella

In 2015, a French couple decided to name their daughter Nutella because they hoped she could emulate the sweetness and popularity of the chocolate spread. One French judge wasn’t having it, and insisted that the name could only lead to “mockery and disobliging remarks.” It was ruled that the child’s name be shortened to the considerably more conventional-sounding “Ella.”

2. AKUMA (DEVIL)

The case of baby Akuma, which means devil in Japanese, stirred such a frenzy in the early 1990s that it even caught the attention of the Prime Minister’s cabinet. The Justice Minister at the time spoke out against the government intervention, saying, “It is not appropriate to instruct parents to change children’s names without legal basis.” Regardless, naming your child devil eventually became illegal in Japan.

3. ANAL

New Zealand has no time for anyone’s bizarre baby-naming shenanigans. Parents have to get all potential names approved by the government, and if officials deem something too wacky, it gets added to the ever-growing list of banned names. There were many questionable entries on the list they released in 2013, Anal being a particularly horrifying offender.

4. GESHER (BRIDGE)

Norway is another country that regulates what parents can name their child. One Norwegian mother was sent to jail after failing to pay the $420 fine for using an unapproved name. She protested saying that she had been instructed to name her son Gesher, the Hebrew word for bridge, in a dream she had.

5. TALULA DOES THE HULA FROM HAWAII

Borderline child abuse or most epic name ever? The New Zealand government went with the former, and assumed guardianship of the 9-year-old girl who held that moniker in order to ensure that a more appropriate name was found for her.

6. OSAMA BIN LADEN

Shortly following the events of 9/11, a Turkish couple living in Cologne, Germany, felt inspired to name their child after Osama Bin Laden. German officials declined to let that happen, citing the section of their naming guidelines which states that all names "must not be likely to lead to humiliation." What’s more, German law prohibits foreign names that are illegal in the parents’ home country, and this particular moniker is illegal in Turkey.

7. ROBOCOP

In 2014, officials from Sonora, Mexico, compiled a list of banned baby names taken straight from the state’s newborn registries. While citizens are no longer allowed to give this name to their children, there’s at least one kid out there named Robocop.

8. CHIEF MAXIMUS

Max is usually short for something, so why not Chief Maximus? This was another name that landed on New Zealand’s list of banned names.

9.BRFXXCCXXMNPCCCCLLLMMNPRXVCLMNCKSSQLBB11116

Sweden has notoriously strict naming laws. In 1982, a law was passed to prevent non-noble families from bestowing their children with noble names. Today the law vaguely states that “first names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it, or names which for some obvious reason are not suitable as a first name.” In protest of the restrictions, one couple decided to make their child’s name a captcha code from hell. The name, pronounced “Albin,” was rejected. The parents later submitted the name with the same pronunciation but rewritten as “A." That was rejected as well.

10. @

As is the case with many countries, China doesn’t allow symbols or numerals to be included in baby names. The at symbol is pronounced “ai-ta” in Chinese, which sounds similar to a phrase meaning “love him.” One couple felt the symbol was a fitting name for their son, but the Chinese government apparently disagreed.

11. CIRCUMCISION

Tragically, t his was another name that officials in Sonora, Mexico, discovered in the newborn registries. They made the heroic decision to ban the unfortunate name from that point forward.

12. HARRIET

If Icelandic parents want to give their children a name that isn’t listed in their National Register of Persons, they can pay a fee and apply for government approval. In addition to not being a potential source of humiliation, the name must also meet criteria that’s more specific to Iceland. It can only include letters in the Icelandic alphabet and must be able to conform to the language grammatically.

One family was unable to renew their daughter Harriet’s passport because her name can’t be conjugated in Icelandic. Her brother Duncan also had a banned name (there’s no letter C in the Icelandic alphabet), and the children instead must carry passports that list their names as “Girl” and “Boy.”

13. METALLICA

A baby girl from Sweden was baptized under this heavy metal name, but tax officials eventually deemed it inappropriate.

14. CHOW TOW (SMELLY HEAD)

By naming their child Chow Tow, which translates to “smelly head,” two parents in Malaysia were basically doing future bullies’ jobs for them. The country published this in a list of banned monikers after receiving an influx of people applying to change their given names.

15. LINDA

In 2014, Saudi Arabia released its own list of banned baby names. Several of them, like Linda, claimed spots due to their association with Western culture.

16. SEX FRUIT

The New Zealand government thankfully stepped in before some poor child had to spend the rest of their life with the name Sex Fruit. (Though being raised by parents who thought that was a smart idea in the first place probably presents its own set of challenges.)

17. MONKEY

Denmark is another country that requires parents to choose baby names from a pre-approved list. Parents need permission from the government to choose outside the list of 7000 names, and each year approximately 250 are rejected. In addition to Monkey, the names Pluto and Anus also didn’t make the cut.

18. VENERDI (FRIDAY)

Italy has the jurisdiction to reject baby names when they are “likely to limit social interaction and create insecurity.” Judges claimed the name Venerdi, meaning Friday, would make the young boy in question the subject of mockery. The parents were forced to change the name, but in response threatened to name their next child Mercoledi, the Italian word for Wednesday.

19. NIRVANA

Portugal has a whopping 80 pages dedicated to listing which names are legal and which are not. Nirvana is among the more than 2000 names that are included in the banned section.

20. FRAISE (STRAWBERRY)

When a couple attempted to name their child after a strawberry, the French courts intervened. The judge claimed that the name Fraise would incur teasing due to its connection to the idiomatic phrase “ramène ta fraise,” which means “get your butt over here.” The parents insisted that they were only trying to give their daughter an original name, and eventually went with “Fraisine” instead.

21. "." (FULL STOP)

Among New Zealand’s 2013 list of banned names that people apparently tried giving to their children is the symbol “.”. The name would have been pronounced “Full Stop.”

22. SARAH

When naming their children, Moroccan parents must choose from a list of acceptable names that properly align with “Moroccan identity.” Sarah with an “H” is banned because it’s considered to be the Hebrew spelling, but the Arabic “Sara” is perfectly fine.

23. Prince William

Unless the Duke of Cambridge is traveling to France, you won’t find any Prince Williams in the country. A couple from southern France was barred from giving the name to their child in 2015. According to a French court, the name would have led to a “lifetime of mockery.”

24. Mini cooper

The French parents who were prevented from naming their baby Prince William came prepared with a back-up: Mini Cooper. The same court that denied them their first choice ruled that it wasn’t appropriate to name their kid after a car either.

25. IKEA

IKEA is beloved around the world, but there’s one place where it’s illegal to name your baby after the furniture store: It’s home country of Sweden. The name violates the nation’s strict naming laws.

26. Hermione

Harry and Ron are acceptable names in many parts of the world, but in the Mexican state of Sonora, Hermione makes the banned baby names list. The Greek name, which means “well born,” predates the studious witch in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Nonetheless, Sonora has determined that the modern pop culture connotations make the name unsuitable for kids.

27. Fish and Chips (for twins)

The names Fish and Chips sound odd enough on their own, but together, they’re downright cruel. New Zealand banned a couple from giving this set of names to their newborn twins, marking a rare occasion when two names were banned as a pairing.

28. Spinach

Speaking of naming children after food: the name Spinach is outlawed in Australia.

29. Cyanide

Not many people have positive associations with Cyanide. A woman from Wales was one exception: She attempted to name her daughter after the poison, explaining that it was "responsible for killing Hitler and Goebbels and I consider that this was a good thing." The British Court of Appeals stepped in before the name became official.

30. 007

If your name has to consist solely of numerals, you could do worse than 007. Sadly, James Bond’s code number is a banned name in Malaysia.

31. Griezmann Mbappe

When France won the World Cup in 2018, two parents wanted to celebrate in a big way. They named their son Griezmann Mbappe after football stars Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe. French officials felt the child wouldn’t grow up to be appreciative of the homage, and they forced the couple to pick a new name for him.

32. Messi

Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe aren’t the only soccer stars who’ve had babies named after them. In Rosario, Argentina, the hometown of Barcelona player Lionel Messi, baby Messis were becoming so common that the town passed a law specifically banning the name.

33. Ambre (for a boy)

Some names are deemed inappropriate not because of how they sound on their own, but because of who they’re given to. French officials stopped a couple from naming their son Ambre (the French version of Amber), arguing that having a traditionally feminine name risked "confusing the child in a way that could be harmful." Another pair of French parents got into legal trouble for similar reasons when they tried naming their daughter Liam.

34. III

Many countries forbid parents and guardians from including numbers in baby names. There have been attempts to skirt this rule in New Zealand by using Roman numerals instead of Arabic numerals, but they were unsuccessful. The name III doesn’t cut it in the country.

35. Blu

Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy could have ended up with a different name if she was born in Italy. A couple in Milan tried naming their own daughter Blu (the Italian spelling of blue) and were ordered to change it. Naming laws in Italy dictate that "the name given to a child must correspond to their sex." Because Blu is an unconventional name, officials argued that it doesn’t correspond to any sex and is therefore illegal.

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