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47 More Words That Sound Rude (But Actually Aren’t)

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Last year, we posted this list of words—from aholehole to wankapin—that sound, well, a lot more suspect than their fairly mundane meanings might suggest. (An aholehole is a Hawaiian flagtail fish, by the way, and a wankapin is a Central American lotus plant.) That list, however, was just the tip of the suspect-sounding iceberg: Here are 47 more entirely genuine English words that sound rude, but really aren’t. Honest. 

1. ARSECOCKLE

An old Scots word for a sore and inflamed spot or zit, or a pockmark—or as the Dictionary of the Scots Language defines it, “a hot pimple.”

2. BASTARD-ROCKET

Listed in Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language as another name for the plant dyer’s-weed, Reseda luteola.

3. BUMBARGE

Another word for a bumboat—a vessel used to transport provisions to a larger ship. 

4. BUTT-SHAFT

A term used in archery, referring to “a target arrow without a barb.”

5. BUTT-WOMAN

A 17th century word for a fishwife—butt, in this case, is derived from “turbot.”

6. COCKAROUSE

An English corruption of caucauasu, an Algonquin word for a wiseman or elder, cockarouse was used by early American colonists for someone who held a position of responsibility or consequence. 

7. COCK-HEAD

In a flour mill, the cock-head is apparently the upper part of the spindle around which the topmost millstone sits.

8. COCK-SNAPPER

A juvenile Australian snapper fish.

9. COVERSLUT

A 17th century word for any item of clothing worn to hide a dirty or untidy garment underneath.

10. CRAPPIE

A local name for the Mississippi sunfish, Pomoxis annularis

11. CRUDDY-BUTTER

An old Scots word for poor-quality curds—not good enough to be used to make cheese—that are instead served just as they are, with a pinch of salt.

12. CUNCTIPOTENT

Watch how you pronounce this one—it’s just another word meaning “all-powerful.”

13. DICKPOT

An 18th century word for an earthenware vase filled with hot coals and used as a foot-warmer.

14. HIGH-HOLE

An early 19th century dialect nickname for Colaptes auratus, a bird of the woodpecker family.

15. HOLE-BREEDER

A 19th century word for any bird—and in particular the kingfisher—that nests in holes in riverbanks or cliff tops.

16. HORSE-BUTTS

The thickest part of a horse’s hide (or the hide of any similar animal) that’s used to make the toughest, thickest leather.

17. ILLYWHACKER

A con artist or small-time crook.

18. KUMPIT

A type of “trading vessel in the Philippine islands,” according to the OED.

19. MONKEY-POOP

A smaller-than-normal poop deck on board a ship.

20. PENISLE

Think again—that’s pronounced “pen isle,” in case you’re wondering, and it’s a 17th century word for a peninsula.

21. POONALITE

Named for the Indian city of Pune, poonalite or poonahlite is another name for the quartz-like mineral scolecite

22. POOP-ORNAMENT

Definitely not what it sounds: this is an old 19th century nautical slang word for an apprentice sailor.

23. POUNIE-COCK

An old Scots word for a male turkey.

24. PRICKSHAFT

Prick is an old word for an archery target or bulls-eye, and a shaft is simply an arrow. Put together, a prickshaft is an arrow used specifically in target practice, or else refers to the arrow that falls most closely to the target in a game of archery. Dates back to Tudor England. 

25. PUSSY-HOISTING

Old 1920s criminal slang for stealing fur coats and stoles.

26. RIMBOMB

An old-fashioned (and thankfully long-forgotten) word meaning to reverberate or to resound. A rimbombo is a deep rumble of thunder.

27. SCARPENIS

A very unfortunate Scots corruption of the French word escarpines—a pair of thin-soled shoes or slippers.

28. SCOLLUCKS

An old dialect word for the waste material from a slate quarry, or for blocks of substandard quality slate. 

29. SEXFARIOUS

The little-used etymological cousin of words like bifarious and trifarious, sexfarious simply means “comprising six parts.”

30. SEXTACTIC

A mathematical adjective defined by the OED as “relating to or involving a point of contact of the sixth degree.”

31. SHAFT-ALLEY

An old nautical term for the passageway on a ship leading from the engine room to the stern, which houses the shafts of the propellers. Because it was so secluded, crewmembers would often meet to gossip there—so shaft-alley eventually came to be used as a byword for gossipy, unreliable information too.

32. SHAGAMUFFIN

Simply defined as a “term of abuse” by the OED, with just one recorded use dating back to 1642.

33. SHITTLE-WITTED

Shittle is an old 15th century word meaning “fickle” or “inconsistent” (and is probably related to skittish). If you’re shittle-witted or shittle-brained, ultimately, you’re hot-headed and changeable. 

34. SLUT-HOLE

A Victorian English word for a bin or garbage heap, or a receptacle for rubbish.

35. SPUNK-WATER

Nineteenth century American slang for the water that collects in hollows of tree stumps, spunk-water was once believed to be a cure for warts; Mark Twain mentions it in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

36. STORMCOCK

An old English dialect word for the mistle thrush, a European songbird whose song was supposed to forecast a storm or downpour of rain. 

37. TIT-BABBLER

Any one of a number of medium-sized songbirds native to India and southeast Asia, including the pin-striped and the fluffy-backed tit-babblers

38. TITHAND

An old 18th century Scots word for the latest news …

39. TITTYNOPE

… and an old 18th century Yorkshire word for a small quantity of something left over after all the rest has been used. 

40. TURDIFORM

Describing anything resembling a thrush (or a stormcock, for that matter).

41. TWATTER-LIGHT

A 17th century word for twilight.

42. TWO-HANDED-CRACK

A Scots dialect word for a meeting between two people, or a tête-a-tête.

43. VAGINULA

A term from the botanical study of mosses, essentially referring to the base of the tip of a single “blade” of a mossy plant. 

44. WANKLE

While Wankel (spelled with an –el and an upper-case W) is the name of a type of engine, wankle (with an –le and a lower-case w) is an old word meaning “unsteady,” or “in weak health.” 

45. WANSUCKED

An 18th century Scots word for a child that has not been properly suckled.

46. WILLIE-WHIP-THE-WIND

An old nickname for the kestrel, referring to its ability to hover in one spot

57. WILLY-WURLY

An old word from Cornwall meaning “dizzy” or “in a spin.” Willy-wurly-way is an old English name for a game of tag.

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Beyond “Buffalo buffalo”: 9 Other Repetitive Sentences From Around The World
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Famously, in English, it’s possible to form a perfectly grammatical sentence by repeating the word buffalo (and every so often the place name Buffalo) a total of eight times: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo essentially means “buffalo from Buffalo, New York, who intimidate other buffalo from Buffalo, New York, are themselves intimidated by buffalo from Buffalo, New York.” But repetitive or so-called antanaclastic sentences and tongue twisters like these are by no means unique to English—here are a few in other languages that you might want to try.

1. “LE VER VERT VA VERS LE VERRE VERT” // FRENCH

This sentence works less well in print than Buffalo buffalo, of course, but it’s all but impenetrable when read aloud. In French, le ver vert va vers le verre vert means “the green worm goes towards the green glass,” but the words ver (worm), vert (green), vers (towards), and verre (glass) are all homophones pronounced “vair,” with a vowel similar to the E in “bet” or “pet.” In fact, work the French heraldic word for squirrel fur, vair, in there somewhere and you’d have five completely different interpretations of the same sound to deal with.

2. “CUM EO EO EO EO QUOD EUM AMO” // LATIN

Eo can be interpreted as a verb (“I go”), an adverb ("there," "for that reason"), and an ablative pronoun (“with him” or “by him”) in Latin, each with an array of different shades of meaning. Put four of them in a row in the context cum eo eo eo eo quod eum amo, and you’ll have a sentence meaning “I am going there with him because I love him.”

3. “MALO MALO MALO MALO” // LATIN

An even more confusing Latin sentence is malo malo malo malo. On its own, malo can be a verb (meaning “I prefer,” or “I would rather”); an ablative form of the Latin word for an apple tree, malus (meaning “in an apple tree”); and two entirely different forms (essentially meaning “a bad man,” and “in trouble” or “in adversity”) of the adjective malus, meaning evil or wicked. Although the lengths of the vowels differ slightly when read aloud, put all that together and malo malo malo malo could be interpreted as “I would rather be in an apple tree than a wicked man in adversity.” (Given that the noun malus can also be used to mean “the mast of a ship,” however, this sentence could just as easily be interpreted as, “I would rather be a wicked man in an apple tree than a ship’s mast.”)

4. “FAR, FÅR FÅR FÅR?” // DANISH

Far (pronounced “fah”) is the Danish word for father, while får (pronounced like “for”) can be used both as a noun meaning "sheep" and as a form of the Danish verb , meaning "to have." Far får får får? ultimately means “father, do sheep have sheep?”—to which the reply could come, får får ikke får, får får lam, meaning “sheep do not have sheep, sheep have lambs.”

5. “EEEE EE EE” // MANX

Manx is the Celtic-origin language of the Isle of Man, which has close ties to Irish. In Manx, ee is both a pronoun (“she” or “it”) and a verb (“to eat”), a future tense form of which is eeee (“will eat”). Eight letter Es in a row ultimately can be divided up to mean “she will eat it.”

6. “COMO COMO? COMO COMO COMO COMO!” // SPANISH

Como can be a preposition (“like,” “such as”), an adverb (“as,” “how”), a conjunction (“as”), and a verb (a form of comer, “to eat”) in Spanish, which makes it possible to string together dialogues like this: Como como? Como como como como! Which means “How do I eat? I eat like I eat!”

7. “Á Á A Á Á Á Á.” // ICELANDIC

Á is the Icelandic word for river; a form of the Icelandic word for ewe, ær; a preposition essentially meaning “on” or “in;” and a derivative of the Icelandic verb eiga, meaning “to have,” or “to possess.” Should a person named River be standing beside a river and simultaneously own a sheep standing in or at the same river, then that situation could theoretically be described using the sentence Á á á á á á á in Icelandic.

8. “MAI MAI MAI MAI MAI” // THAI

Thai is a tonal language that uses five different tones or patterns of pronunciation (rising, falling, high, low, and mid or flat) to differentiate between the meanings of otherwise seemingly identical syllables and words: glai, for instance, can mean both “near” and “far” in Thai, just depending on what tone pattern it’s given. Likewise, the Thai equivalent of the sentence “new wood doesn’t burn, does it?” is mai mai mai mai mai—which might seem identical written down, but each syllable would be given a different tone when read aloud.

9. “THE LION-EATING POET IN THE STONE DEN” // MANDARIN CHINESE

Mandarin Chinese is another tonal language, the nuances of which were taken to an extreme level by Yuen Ren Chao, a Chinese-born American linguist and writer renowned for composing a bizarre poem entitled "The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den." When written in its original Classical Chinese script, the poem appears as a string of different characters. But when transliterated into the Roman alphabet, every one of those characters is nothing more than the syllable shi:

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

The only difference between each syllable is its intonation, which can be either flat (shī), rising (shí), falling (shì) or falling and rising (shǐ); you can hear the entire poem being read aloud here, along with its English translation.

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'Froyo,' 'Troll,' and 'Sriracha' Added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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Looking for the right word to describe the time you spend drinking before heading out to a party, or a faster way to say “frozen yogurt?" Merriam-Webster is here to help. The 189-year-old English vocabulary giant has just added 250 new words and definitions to their online dictionary, including pregame and froyo.

New words come and go quickly, and it’s Merriam-Webster’s job to keep tabs on the terms that have staying power. “As always, the expansion of the dictionary mirrors the expansion of the language, and reaches into all the various cubbies and corners of the lexicon,” they wrote in their announcement.

Froyo is just one of the recent additions to come from the culinary world. Bibimbap, a Korean rice dish; choux pastry, a type of dough; and sriracha, a Thai chili sauce that’s been around for decades but has just recently exploded in the U.S., are now all listed on Merriam-Webster's website.

Of course, the internet was once again a major contributor to this most recent batch of words. Some new terms, like ransomware (“malware that requires the victim to pay a ransom to access encrypted files”) come from the tech world, while words like troll ("to harass, criticize, or antagonize [someone] especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts”) were born on social media. Then there’s the Internet of Things, a concept that shifts the web off our phones and computers and into our appliances.

Hive mind, dog whistle, and working memory are just a few of the new entries to receive the Merriam-Webster stamp of approval. To learn more about how some words make it into the dictionary while others get left out, check these behind-the-scenes secrets of dictionary editors.

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