15 Obscure Words Every Pet Owner Needs in Their Vocabulary

iStock.com/vvvita
iStock.com/vvvita

As a nickname for a cat, the word mog or moggy is thought to come from Maggie, a name that was once used more generally in the language as a nickname for any young woman or girl. As a nickname for a dog—and in particular a shabby-looking one—the word mutt dates back to the late 19th century. But oddly, it originally referred to a slow or poor-quality racehorse, not to a dog, and derives from muttonhead, an even older word for a fool or simpleton. But if you’re a dog or cat owner, those aren’t the only words worthy of a place in your vocabulary …

1. CLIMB-TACK

As well as being another word for a mischievous child, if you have a cat that likes to investigate the shelves where you store your food, it's a climb-tack.

2. CUMLIN

The word comeling has been used since the 13th century to refer to someone who visits or enters somewhere or joins a new group of people as opposed to one of its regular or permanent residents or members. Derived from that, cumlin is an old word for an animal—and in particular a cat—that spontaneously attaches itself to a new owner.

3. CUTTYCRUMB

An old Scots word for the sound of a purring cat, often used in the expression “to sing cuttycrumb.”

4. GRANONS

A 17th century word for a cat’s whiskers, granons ultimately derives from an old Germanic word probably meaning “mustache.”

5. HAINGLE

Haingle is a Scots word derived from hang, in the sense of feeling unwell or tired. As a verb, haingle can be used to mean to move languidly or feebly, or to look tired or jaded. And from there, it came to be used as a nickname for a greedy or lazy dog in the early 19th century.

6. HUNDGIE

Hundge is an old Scots word meaning “to drive or chase away,” which comes from an earlier verb hund, meaning “to chase like a hound,” or “to run from place to place.” A diminutive form, hundgie—literally “a little chaser”—was once a nickname for an energetic dog.

7. KREESAL

When a dog or a cat curls up in a ball to sleep, you can call that “in a kreesal,” an old Scots expression derived from an earlier word, kreeso, for an untidy bundle of clothes or anything else.

8. PUGNOZZLE

The playwright Samuel Beckett coined the word pugnozzle in 1934 to mean, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “to move [the upper lip and nostrils] up and down in the manner of a pug dog.”

9. RUM BUFFER

From the mid-16th to the early 19th century, the word rum was used in English slang to designate particularly beautiful or excellent things. In that sense, it has nothing to do with drink and, according to one explanation at least, derived from the place name Rome and was meant to allude to the city’s fine architecture. So a rum cove was a handsome or rich gentleman, while a rum doxy was a beautiful woman. A rum beak was a fair judge or magistrate known among criminals for his lenient sentences. And a rum buffer was a particularly fine or handsome dog.

10. SNAPE

Thought to be derived either from snip or snipe, the word snape has a number of different snappy and snatching meanings in English, including “skimp on food,” “to snuff out a candle,” and “to pinch” or “deceive.” As a verb, it can also be used to mean “to call off a dog.”

11. SNOWK

As well as being another word for a noisy intake of breath, according to the English Dialect Dictionary, to snowk something is to smell it like a dog—that is, by poking or pushing your nose into it.

12. SPITFIRE

As an adjective, spitfire has been used to mean “hot-tempered” or “irascible” since the early 1600s, and in that sense was given to a type of single-seater aircraft that gained fame during the Second World War. But in the early 1800s, the word was applied to an enraged or irritable cat, and remained in use through to the turn of the century.

13. TRUNDLE-TAIL

Dating back as far as the 15th century, trundle-tail is an obsolete nickname for a dog with a fluffy, curly tail; Shakespeare used it in King Lear.

14. VIRE-SPANNEL

A vire-spannel—literally a “fire spaniel”—is a dog that likes to sit idly by the fire. The cat equivalent is a fire-scordel.

15. WHIFFET

Whiffet is a 19th-century American word for a small dog. It’s thought to be derived from whiff, in the sense of a light gust of wind, and is perhaps modeled on whippet.

A version of this list was first published in 2016.

What's the Difference Between a Rabbit and a Hare?

iStock.com/Carmen Romero
iStock.com/Carmen Romero

Hippity, hoppity, Easter's on its way—and so is the eponymous Easter bunny. But aside from being a magical, candy-carrying creature, what exactly is Peter Cottontail: bunny, rabbit, or hare? Or are they all just synonyms for the same adorable animal?

In case you've been getting your fluffy, long-eared mammals mixed up, we've traveled down the rabbit hole to set the record straight. Although rabbits and hares belong to the same grass-munching family—called Leporidae—they're entirely different species with unique characteristics. It would be like comparing sheep and goats, geneticist Steven Lukefahr of Texas A&M University told National Geographic.

If you aren't sure which animal has been hopping around and helping themselves to the goodies in your vegetable garden, take a closer look at their ears. In general, hares have longer ears and larger bodies than rabbits. Rabbits also tend to be more social creatures, while hares prefer to keep to themselves.

As for the baby animals, they go by different names as well. Baby hares are called leverets, while newborn rabbits are called kittens or kits. So where exactly do bunnies fit into this narrative? Originally, the word bunny was used as a term of endearment for a young girl, but its meaning has evolved over time. Bunny is now a cutesy, childlike way to refer to both rabbits and hares—although it's more commonly associated with rabbits these days. With that said, the Easter bunny is usually depicted as a rabbit, but the tradition is thought to have originated with German immigrants who brought their legend of an egg-laying hare called "Osterhase" to America.

In other ambiguous animal news, the case of Bugs Bunny is a little more complicated. According to scientist and YouTuber Nick Uhas, the character's long ears, fast speed, and solitary nature seem to suggest he's a hare. However, in the cartoon, Bugs is shown burrowing underground, which doesn't jive with the fact that hares—unlike most rabbits—live aboveground. "We can draw the conclusion that Bugs may be a rabbit with hare-like behavior or a hare with rabbit nesting habits," Uhas says.

The conversation gets even more confusing when you throw jackrabbits into the mix, which aren't actually rabbits at all. Jackrabbits are various species of large hare that are native to western North America; the name itself is a shortened version of "jackass rabbit," which refers to the fact that the animal's ears look a little like a donkey's.

A jackrabbit
Connor Mah, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

As Mark Twain once famously wrote about the creature, "He is just like any other rabbit, except that he is from one-third to twice as large, has longer legs in proportion to his size, and has the most preposterous ears that ever were mounted on any creature but the jackass." (Fun fact: Black-tailed jackrabbits' extra-long ears actually help them stay cool in the desert. The blood vessels in their ears enlarge when it gets hot, causing blood to flow to their ears and ridding their bodies of excess heat.)

Rabbits, hares, and jackrabbits all have one thing in common, though: They love a good salad. So if you happen across one of these hopping creatures, give them some grass or weeds—and skip the carrots. Bugs Bunny may have loved the orange vegetable, but most hares and rabbits would prefer leafy greens.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

The Surprising Origins Behind 9 Modern Slang Expressions

Rihanna attending a 2018 movie premiere with eyebrows on fleek
Rihanna attending a 2018 movie premiere with eyebrows on fleek
ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images

Slang evolves so quickly these days—especially on social media—that it can be hard to recall how we first learned a term, much less where it actually came from. This list will help you figure out whether you should be thanking Erykah Badu, LL Cool J, or an academic journal for some of the expressions you love to throw around in conversation and online.

  1. FOMO

A marketing strategist named Dan Herman claims to have identified the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) phenomenon and published the first academic paper about it in The Journal Of Brand Management in 2000. Yet the credit for the popular usage of FOMO often goes to venture capitalist and author Patrick J. McGinnis, who used the term in 2004 in an op-ed for Harvard Business School’s magazine The Harbus to describe the frenetic social lives of his grad school cohort. (One acronym from the op-ed that McGinnis deserves complete credit for: FOBO—Fear of a Better Option.)

  1. Bye, Felisha!

A diss by any other name might still sting as sweet, but there's something satisfying about ending a conversation with "Bye, Felisha!" (Though it’s often mistakenly written as Felicia.) The phrase comes from the 1995 stoner comedy Friday, co-written by and starring Ice Cube as Craig, a young man in South Central Los Angeles just trying to get to the weekend. When the mooching bit character Felisha (played by Angela Means Kaaya) asks Craig’s friend Smokey (Chris Tucker) if she can borrow his car and then a joint, Craig mutters "Bye, Felisha." And now everyone says it, though usually as an exclamation.

  1. Lit

In the last few years, lit has been literally everywhere—in popular music, speech, memes, and a series of articles about what it actually means. People have been using the word to mean “intoxicated” since at least 1918, when John McGavock Grider, an American pilot who served in England's Royal Flying Corps during World War I, used it in his book War Birds: Diary Of An Unknown Aviator. In recent years, however, hip hop has brought the word back to describe a general excitement that can be achieved with or without substances.

  1. Woke

Neo-soul singer Erykah Badu has been credited with bringing woke into popular usage with the 2008 song “Master Teacher,” which was a collaboration with the musician Georgia Anne Muldrow. But using the word to mean “aware in a political or cultural sense” dates back to 1962, when novelist William Melvin Kelley tackled appropriation of black culture in a New York Times article entitled “If You’re Woke You Dig It.” The Oxford English Dictionary finally “woke” up (sorry) and included this timely definition of the word in 2017.

  1. Humblebrag

Humankind has probably been humblebragging since that one Neanderthal complained about how bloated he felt after eating too many woolly mammoths over the weekend. Credit for the term, however, goes to Harris Wittels, the late comedian and writer best known for Parks and Recreation. He coined humblebrag in 2010, explaining the concept through retweeted examples from celebrities on the @Humblebrag Twitter account before publishing Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty in 2012.

  1. On Fleek

This phrase was first used in 2014 by a Vine user named Peaches Monroee to describe perfectly groomed eyebrows. But fleek is defined in the annals of Urban Dictionary as early as 2003 as “smooth, nice, sweet” and 2009 as “awesome.” It quickly evolved to encompass anything that’s flawlessly on point, until adults started awkwardly using it and younger, hipper English speakers moved on to the next vernacular phrase we’re probably not cool enough to have heard yet.

  1. First World Problem

A cousin of humblebrag, this phrase is a helpful reminder to count our blessings and stop complaining about trivial setbacks, like a delayed flight or, if you're really fortunate, slow Wi-Fi on the yacht. It may feel like a relatively new addition to the vernacular, but the phrase "First world problem" has been around since 1979, when an academic named Geoffrey K. Payne used it in an article in the journal Built Environment (although Payne was talking about legitimate First World Problems, notably housing). The more ironic usage developed in the 1990s, perhaps helped along by the Matthew Good Band song "Omissions of the Omen," which included the term in the lyrics. But it didn't go mainstream until it became a self-deprecating internet meme around 2005.

  1. Yas/Yass/Yaass

Everyone’s favorite new affirmative was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2017 and defined as “expressing great pleasure or excitement.” Many first heard it on Broad City, which debuted in 2014. But according to "Reply All," we owe its current popular American usage to the LGBTQ black and Latino ball scene of the 1980s, where attendees hollered “Yas!” at the sight of fiercely strutting drag queens. Ball culture was fertile linguistic ground, by the way: The subculture also gave us voguing (which inspired Madonna), fierce, throwing shade, and more. Call it the Kween’s English.

  1. G.O.A.T.

James Todd Smith, better known as the rapper LL Cool J, clearly loves wordplay: The letters in his stage name stand for Ladies Love Cool James. So it’s no surprise that he brought the acronym G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time, pronounced like the name of the animal) into popular usage with the 2000 hip hop album of the same name. But many trace the use of G.O.A.T as an initialism to boxer and fellow wordsmith Muhammad Ali, who frequently referred to himself as "the greatest" and occasionally "the greatest of all time." In 1992, Ali’s wife Lonnie even incorporated Greatest of All Time, Inc. (G.O.A.T. Inc.) to consolidate and license her husband’s intellectual properties.

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