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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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Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters
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According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

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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