11 Words That Started Out As Spelling Mistakes

A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
iStock.com/Dirima

The word irregardless might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that if you were to use it in a sentence, you’d be perfectly understood—and that’s more than enough evidence for it to have been accepted into many dictionaries (albeit flagged as non-standard or informal), including Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, and even the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, which has so far been able to trace it back as far as 1912. So despite it having its origins in an error, and irregardless of what you might think of it, there’s no denying irregardless is indeed a word—and it’s by no means alone.

1. Expediate

Meaning “to hasten” or “to complete something promptly,” the verb expediate is thought to have been invented by accident in the early 1600s when the adjective form of expedite, meaning “ready for action” or “alert,” was misspelled in an essay by the English politician Sir Edwin Sandys (it was later corrected).

2. Culprit

There are several different accounts of the origin of culprit, but all of them seem to agree that the word was born out of a mistake. Back when French was still the language of the law in England in the Middle Ages (a hangover from the days of the Norman Conquest), the phrase Culpable, prest d’averrer nostre bille—literally “guilty, ready to prove our case”—was apparently the stock reply given by the Clerk of the Crown whenever a defendant gave a plea of not guilty. In the court records, this fairly long-winded phrase was often abbreviated just to cul. prit., and, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “by a fortuitous or ignorant running together of the two,” the word culprit was born.

3. Despatch

Despatch is a chiefly British English variant of dispatch, often used only in formal contexts like the name of the political despatch box in the House of Commons. The e spelling apparently began as a phonetic variation of the original I spelling, but after Samuel Johnson included it in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, its use was legitimized and thrived in the 19th century. Because Johnson himself preferred the I spelling in his own writings, however, it's supposed that he included the e spelling by mistake and inadvertently popularized the error.

4. Nickname

Nicknames were originally called eke names, with the verb eke used here in the sense of “to make longer” or “to provide an addition.” Sometime in the 13th century, however, “an eke-name” was mistakenly interpreted as “a neke-name,” and the N permanently jumped across from the indefinite article an to the verb eke. The same error—known linguistically as “rebracketing” or “junctural metanalysis”—is responsible for nadders, numpires, and naprons all losing their initial Ns in the Middle English period.

5. Ammunition

Ammunition derives from a faulty division of the French la munition, which was incorrectly misheard as l'amonition by French soldiers in the Middle Ages, and it was this mistaken form that was borrowed into English in the 1600s.

6. Scandinavia

Scandinavia was originally called Scadinavia, without the first N, and is thought to take its name from an island, perhaps now part of the Swedish mainland, called Scadia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the extra N was added in error by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, and has remained in place ever since.

7. Syllabus

If all had gone to plan in the history of the word syllabus, those two Ls should really be Ts: Syllabus was coined as a Latin misreading of an Ancient Greek word, sittybos, meaning “a table of contents.”

8. Sneeze

Oddly, sneeze was spelled with an F and not an S, fneze, in Middle English, which gives weight to the theory that it was probably originally coined onomatopoeically. At least one explanation of why the letter changed suggests that this F inadvertently became an S sometime in the 15th century due to continual misreadings of the long lowercase f as the old-fashioned long S character, ſ.

9. Ptarmigan

The ptarmigan is a bird of the grouse family, found in mountainous and high-latitude environments. Its bizarre name with its initial silent P is something of a mystery, as the original Scots word from which it derives, tarmachan, shows no evidence of it and there’s little reason why one should ever have to have been added to it—except, of course, if it were a mistake. The P spelling first emerged in the late 1600s, and is thought to have been a mistaken or misguided attempt to ally the name to the Greek word for a wing, pteron, and eventually this unusual P spelling replaced the original one.

10. Sherry

Sherry takes its name from the southern Spanish port of Xeres (now Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz) and was originally known as vino de Xeres, or “wine of Xeres.” This name then morphed into sherris when sherry first began to be talked about in English in the early 17th century, but because of that final S, it didn’t take long for that to be misinterpreted as a plural. Ultimately, a mistaken singular form, sherry, emerged entirely by mistake in the early 1600s.

11. Pea

Another word that developed from a plural-that-actually-wasn’t is pea. One pea was known as a pease in Middle English, but because of that final “s” sound, pease was quickly misinterpreted as a plural, giving rise to a misguided singular form, pea, in the 17th century. The actual plural of pease in Middle English, incidentally, was pesen.

This list first ran in 2016.

9 French Insults You Should Know

Rawf8/iStock via Getty Images
Rawf8/iStock via Getty Images

Ah, France—internationally synonymous with fine wines, fashion, and elegant cheeses. As it turns out, the country is home to some pretty fine insults, too, as the list below demonstrates. If you need some more ways to express your distaste in a foreign language, we've also got you covered with insults in German. (If historical insults are more your speed, you can peruse these old English insults, or learn how to level a sick burn like Teddy Roosevelt.)

1. Va te faire cuire un oeuf // "Go cook yourself an egg."

Figuratively speaking, this means “leave me alone.” Historically, the idea is that men would criticize their wives cooking dinner, who would then respond, "Go fry yourself an egg"—reminding their mates that they're incapable of cooking anything other than an egg.

2. Bête comme ses pieds // "You are as stupid as your feet."

The feet are the furthest part of the body from the brain, so supposedly, the most stupid. Besides, have you ever seen smart feet?

3. Péter plus haut de son cul // "To fart higher than your ass."

If you have gas in your stomach and try to expel it above your behind, you will fail. It's just too ambitious. This phrase means that a person is arrogant, or thinks they are able to do impossible things. They're a show-off, basically.

4. Poule mouillée // "Wet chicken"

Chickens are not known for their bravery. Especially when it rains, they try to hide, as ridiculous as that may be. A wet chicken is someone who is afraid of everything.

5. Mange tes morts // "Eat your dead."

You use this insult when you are very mad at someone. The original meaning is "You have no respect." It's said to have started among the Yenish people—a European ethnic minority with nomadic origins.

6. Sac à merde // "Bag of sh**"

No need for explanation right? Speaks for itself. Often used while driving.

7. Tête de noed // "Knot face"

Someone stupid. Literally, the knot refers to the tip of the penis, but in essence the term has a meaning similar to (but even ruder) than the English dickhead.

8. Couillon/Couillonne // "Little testicle"

A relatively mild insult that means something like "idiot" in English.

9. Con comme une valise sans poignée // "As stupid as a suitcase without a handle."

What good is a suitcase if you can't carry it? In a similar vein, "con comme un balais" means "as dumb as a broom."

15 Slang Terms You Need to Know

iStock/Sashatigar
iStock/Sashatigar

It’s possible to get the pants from too much honeyfuggling. Spark some conversation with these vintage and regional terms.

1. The Term: Hurkle-Durkle

The Definition: According to John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, 200 years ago to hurkle-durkle meant “To lie in bed, or to lounge after it is time to get up or go to work.” Basically, that urge we all fight every weekday morning.

2. The Term: Got the Morbs

The Definition: A phrase from 1880 meaning “temporary melancholia,” according to Passing English of the Victorian Era.

3. The Term: Stubby-Holder

The Definition: An Australian slang term for an insulated beverage holder. (A stubby is Aussie for a 375-milliliter bottle of beer, by the way.)

4. The Term: To Poke Bogey

The Definition: A 19th-century slang word for tricking someone. No one’s quite sure where the phrase came from, but it could have its roots in words for ghosts—bogey as in bogeyman, and poke may be related to an old English word for spirit.

5. The Term: Lizzie Lice

The Definition: According to Eric Partridge’s A Dictionary of the Underworld, this term for a policeman who patrols in cars dates to the 1930s. You might not want to use it when you get pulled over, though. (Rat bag, for a plainclothes detective, may also be unwise.)

6. The Term: Peerie-Winkie

The Definition: Peerie is an old Scottish word meaning “little,” and a peerie-winkie is the little finger or toe. If you’re looking for a fun way to refer to your hands, use the word daddles.

7. The Term: Got the Pants

The Definition: This phrase, according to Passing English of the Victorian Era, means “panting from over-exertion.” After you take the stairs, you get the pants!

8. The Term: Toad-Strangler

The Definition: Those who live in the Gulf states are probably familiar with this term that describes a sudden, and heavy, rain.

9. The Term: Honeyfuggle

The Definition: This word technically means to deceive or to cheat, but according to the Dictionary of Regional American English, it’s also used for public displays of affection.

10. The Term: Whooperups

The Definition: A Victorian term for “inferior, noisy singers” that is just as applicable at modern-day karaoke joints.

11. The Term: Degomble

The Definition: The Antarctic Dictionary defines this as “to disencumber of snow,” usually when coming in from outside.

12. The Term: Play at Rumpscuttle and Clapperdepouch

The Definition: This 1684 phrase has nothing to do with playing games and everything to do with, uh, getting it on. You can also play at rantum-scantum (1667), couch quail (1521), or tray trippee of a die (1660).

13. The Term: Abstain from Beans

The Definition: Here’s one to keep on hand during family gatherings: According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, this is a phrase meaning “to desist from politics.” As Plutarch explained in the circa 110 CE book Of the Training of Children, the term meant “to keep out of public offices” because “anciently the choice of the officers of state was made by beans.” Literally or figuratively, it’s probably a good rule for parties.

14. The Term: Cwtch

The Definition: A very Welsh term for a hug that makes you feel warm inside. (It rhymes with “butch.”)

15. The Term: Hand in One’s Dinner Pail

The Definition: Well, maybe you don’t want an occasion to use this phrase, at least in its original meaning—it’s slang from 1937 for death. Later, the phrase would come to mean “to resign from one’s job; to stop what one is doing.”

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