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11 Old-Fashioned Words for Idiots

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Idiots are everywhere. But how often can you use the word idiot without falling into the idiocy of word repetition? Sure, there are other common words such as moron, dolt and dumbass, but those terms are also easily worn out. Fortunately, there are many old, mostly forgotten terms ready for a revival. When idiots arise, please sprinkle these 11 words for lunkheads into your Facebook posts, think pieces, and doomsday prophecies.

1. JOBBERNOWL

This colorful word, which sounds distinctly Lewis Carroll-y, has two idiot-related uses: it can be a dum-dum or a dum-dum’s head. Its meaning is very close to numbskull, and it has a rarer variation meaning “general stupidity”: jobbernowlism.

2. NIDDY-NODDY

There’s something childishly awesome (or awesomely childish?) about words like jibber-jabber, higgledy-piggledy, and choo-choo. Here’s one for someone whose mental choo-choo train is stalled. As a bonus, it has a clear origin: In the 1600s, niddy-noddy referred to an involuntary dropping (nodding) of the head, kind of like when you fall asleep on an airplane, then jolt yourself awake. The association with drowsiness led the word to the lexicon of idiocy.

3. STOOKIE

A stookie was originally a type of wax statue or other dummy. That made for a smooth transition to real people who aren’t much brighter. You can see that statuesque influence in this 1948 use from The Aberdeen Press and Journal: The civic representatives all standing like ‘stookies’ as they had not got the words of the Psalm they were singing.” Stookies are dummies—literally and figuratively.

4. PUZZLEHEAD

This term isn’t totally out of use, and it does have a positive sense as a crossword or jigsaw puzzle enthusiast. But since the early 1800s, a puzzlehead has also been a person who is confused, as if his mind were a Jenga game that went on a little too long. That’s how brains work, right? Damn it, I’m a lexicographer, not a brainologist.

5. MERRY-ANDREW

The original meaning for this term was a clown—and it’s a slippery slope from buffoonery-that-entertains to buffoonery-that-annoys. This 1910 use from H.H. Richardson’s Getting of Wisdom means something close to dunce: “She grew cautious, and hesitated discreetly before returning one of those ingenuous answers, which, in the beginning, had made her the merry-andrew of the class.”

6. DIZZARD

A dizzard was originally a jester in the 1500s. Since jesters were also called fools, it’s no wonder the word migrated to Idiocy Land. The similarity to dizzy is no accident, as lightness of head is often linked to stupidity of brain.

7. DODDYPOLL

The origins of this term—which go back to at least the early 1400s—suggest it comes from a definition of dod: to make a head rounder. So a doddypoll has an excessively round head, the kind the owner might let roll away at any moment.

8. DUNDERWHELP

You’re probably familiar with dunderhead, which is one of many noggin-related words for idiots, such as meathead and stupidhead. But the dunderhead has a forgotten sibling: the dunderwhelp, who is presumably a chip off the old blockhead. A similar term is dunderpate, which turns up in an 1809 use from Washington Irving’s A Knickerbocker’s History of New York: “A dunderpate, like the owl, the stupidest of birds.” In your face, owls with graduation caps.

9. CLODPATE

Speaking of pate, that old word for the head opened a lot of doors when it comes to naming idiots. In addition to clodpate—a word for someone with a thick head—other insults include doddy-pate, jolter-pate, muddle-pate, puzzle-pate, rattle-pate, and shallow-pate. I love shallow-pate, which was used in a sexism-skewering sentence from 1930 in Time & Tide magazine: “To confound the shallow-pates who complained that a suffragist must be a dowd, the leader of the W.S.P.U. appeared on platforms clothed in Paris frocks.” I reckon we could easily bring pate back. Lord knows we’re surrounded by douchepates and jerkpates.

10. SUMPH

Dating from the 1700s, the origin of this mostly Scottish word is uncertain, but I can confirm that it has a unique, guttural sound that pairs well with idiocy. If I said my cousin is a sumph, you could probably guess he hasn’t authored many peer-reviewed journal articles.

11. NINNYHAMMER

I hate to play favorites and I never exaggerate, but this is the best word ever. It’s such a glorious mash-up: the namby-pambiness of a ninny and the power of a hammer don’t seem to go together, but they combine to make an insult that combines a ninny’s lack of conviction with a hammer’s lack of brainpower. This word dates from the late 1500s, and this 1622 poem by Samuel Rowlands voices a self-deprecating regret: “I might haue beene a scholler, learn'd my Grammar, But I haue lost all like a Ninnie-hammer.” Some heroic writers still use this term, like Colby Cosh in McLean’s who recently dismissed some economists like so: “Goggle-eyed ninnyhammers, the lot of ’em!”

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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