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12 Arm-Twisting Words for Bullies

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The long tradition of bullying means a long list of words for bullies, many of which are lost in the mists of time. Though some words show traces of the wide-ranging history of bully—which originally was a term of endearment—most of the following terms would make useful arrows in the quiver of bully-shamers.

1. BARGAINER

Mostly, this term has involved haggles and negotiations that are peaceful, but it was also used in the 1500s as a term for someone who strikes a hard bargain through violence. This euphemism deserves further use: It fits perfectly with the immortal Godfather-ism all bullies follow: “I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

2. KILL-COW

The Oxford English Dictionary defines this threatening dialect term as “A swashbuckler, bully, braggadocio; a terrible or great person; a man of importance.” It can be a noun or adjective. A 1633 example in James Shirley’s play The Young Admiral uses the term with gusto: “You are afraid Of him, belike: 'tis such a kill-cow gentleman!”

3. BARRATOR

The first uses of this word were more cerebral, if not laudable: barrators were cheaters and tricksters. One sub-meaning referred to a corrupt judge. Among other uses was a sense as a bully, including a hired musclehead. This meaning is found since the 1440s, and a 1577 use from Holinshed’s Chronicles tells a timeless tale of lugs for hire: “Such barretors as used to take monie to beat any man, and againe would not sticke to take monie of him whom they had so beaten, to beat him that first hired them to beat the other.” Man, if you can’t trust a bully, who can you trust?

4. BURGULLION

This nonce word was used by Ben Jonson in 1601. The OED’s etymological note doesn’t inspire much confidence: “According to [Robert] Nares ‘Conjectured to be a term of contempt, invented upon the overthrow of the Bastard of Burgundy in a contest with Anthony Woodville, in Smithfield 1467’; but this, in absence of evidence, is very improbable.”

5., 6., AND 7. CHUCKER-OUT, ARM-TWISTER, AND SHOULDER-HITTER

This type of bully is more of a bouncer: a chucker-out does just that, tossing unruly or unwelcome folks out of an establishment that is likely liquor-soaked. This literal term is reminiscent of two other bully synonyms: arm-twister and shoulder-hitter. In the 1800s, the latter referred someone who throws their fists around (from the shoulder, if they had good form). That could be a bully or a more respectable type: a pugilist.

8. CUTTER

In the 1500s, this was a synonym for a cutthroat: someone, probably a criminal, who was a little too eager to pull out a weapon, especially a knife. A 1581 OED example perfectly describes this sort of roughneck: “…cutters, and hackers, who will take the wall of men, and picke quarrells.”

9. FRAPLER

A frapler tends to fraple: In other words, as the OED puts it, “To dispute, wrangle, bluster.” In 1601, Ben Jonson, who seems to have had a fondness for the lexicon of bullies, used the term in The Fountain of Self-love: “Thou art rude, impudent, course, impolisht; a Frapler, and base.”

10. ROUGHIE

This word for troublemakers turned up in the 1800s and doesn’t require much explanation. These days, it mainly turns up in New Zealand and Australia, and it has a related sense that refers to tricking or pranking someone. That mischievous sense turns up in a 1998 use from the Sydney Morning Herald: “Holdens are relying on the projection of an image of being Australian in spite of its ownership by ‘the General Motors empire’. You wouldn't be trying to pull a roughie, would you?”

11. BELSWAGGER

This folksy word, which is likely a shortened version of belly swagger, has been spotted in print since the 1500s and applied to many swaggering, disreputable types. Other than a bully, a belswagger can be a pimp. Guess it’s true what they say: Belswaggin’ ain’t easy.

12. THUMPER

With apologies to the Disney rabbit, a thumper can be the type no rabbit would want to encounter in a dark alley—or a well-lit gazebo for that matter. The OED definition is wonderfully dry: “One who or that which thumps.” Back in the 1500s, a thumper was often a dastardly rogue, which puts it close to the bully lexicon. Then or now, thumpers are the worst.

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16 Sure Facts About Mrs. Doubtfire
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

After voice-over actor Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) gets divorced and loses custody of his three children, he resorts to dressing up and speaking like a matronly grandmother to get hired as his kids’ nanny. Here are some facts about Mrs. Doubtfire, which was released on this day in 1993.

1. IT’S BASED ON A BRITISH NOVEL.

During the mid-1970s, author Anne Fine walked by a “bric-a-brac” shop selling jewelry and old furs, never having the time to walk inside and meet the store’s proprietor, one Madame Doubtfire. Fine remembered the name in 1986 when she wrote her book Madame Doubtfire. Fine said her one request to the filmmakers was that they "not make the children bratty, and they did indulge me in that."

2. BLAKE LIVELY BLEW HER AUDITION TO PLAY NATALIE.

It came down to the future Gossip Girl star and Mara Wilson. To calm his daughter, Lively’s father told the then five-year-old Blake that she would be reading with Robin Williams’ twin brother at her final audition, not the movie star himself. That plan failed when someone in the room introduced Williams as Robin. Lively described the experience as “horrible.”

3. THEY WENT THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHS OF OLD WOMEN.

Director Chris Columbus claimed that he and his fellow filmmakers looked through “hundreds and hundreds” of photographs until finding a 1940s-era English woman to base Mrs. Doubtfire’s look on.

4. IT TOOK FOUR AND A HALF HOURS TO APPLY MRS. DOUBTFIRE'S MAKEUP.

Makeup artist Ve Neill did the honors. Neill—alongside Greg Cannom and Yolanda Toussieng—won the Oscar for Best Makeup, just like she did for Beetlejuice and Ed Wood. The wig was created by Toussieng, the hairstylist who created Edward Scissorhands' hair.

5. WILLIAMS WENT TO A SAN FRANCISCO SEX SHOP IN THE MRS. DOUBTFIRE COSTUME.

The shop employee was about to sell a sex toy to him when he realized the true identity of the customer.

6. IT WAS SHOT ENTIRELY IN SAN FRANCISCO.

That includes the five large sets built in a 100,000-square-foot building in the Richmond district. It used to be a candy warehouse. After Williams’ passing, fans of the actor left flowers, photographs, and letters at the Pacific Heights house that doubled as the Hillards' home. The plastic surgeon who lives there didn’t mind. In the original script, Mrs. Doubtfire was set in Chicago.

7. CHUCK JONES SUPERVISED THE OPENING ANIMATION.

Jones was the iconic animator of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons for Warner Bros. The full five minutes of Pudgy Parakeet and Grunge the Cat was released as a DVD feature.

8. COLUMBUS USED MULTIPLE CAMERAS SIMULTANEOUSLY TO CAPTURE THE CAST WHEN WILLIAMS IMPROVISED.

The director mostly shot one or two takes of each scene as it was written in the script before shooting something Williams made up. Columbus said the resulting footage gave him the option of cutting a PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17 version of the movie. (He ended up going with the PG-13 version.)

9. WILLIAMS DIDN’T KNOW THE BARBRA STREISAND LYRICS.

Harvey Fierstein (Frank) and Scott Capurro (Jack) taught Williams “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”

10. WILLIAMS TRIED TO BREAK PIERCE BROSNAN'S CONCENTRATION.

While Brosnan (Stu) was attempting to choke on the shrimp, Williams kept making suggestive comments to make his task much more difficult.

11. SALLY FIELD AND MARA WILSON ALSO WENT OFF SCRIPT.

When Field inadvertently gave herself a cappuccino mustache, it was added to the movie. Wilson ad-libbed her princess line.

12. LYDIA WAS EXPELLED FROM HER SCHOOL FOR WORKING ON THE MOVIE.


Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Lisa Jakub was kicked out of her Toronto school for taking the five-month-long gig. When Williams found out he wrote a letter to the school asking them to reconsider. School officials framed his letter, but didn’t change their mind about Jakub.

13. A LENGTHY SUBPLOT INVOLVING THE NEIGHBOR GLORIA WAS CUT.

Scenes were filmed where Daniel got even with Gloria for telling Mrs. Doubtfire nasty rumors about him by telling her to use dog urine to make her garden beautiful, which ultimately kills her flowers. Gloria is only in two scenes in the final version.

14. THE HILLARDS ALMOST GOT BACK TOGETHER.

Screenwriter Randi Mayem Singer left the movie when 20th Century Fox wanted her to change the ending so that Daniel and Miranda get back together. After the studio and Columbus read the new, happier ending in Leslie Dixon’s revised script, they asked Singer to come back and change the ending back to the two remaining divorced.

15. TALK OF A SEQUEL BEGAN IN 2001.

In 2014, Williams had given Elf screenwriter David Berenbaum the go-ahead to work on a second draft of the sequel, which was cancelled following Williams’ passing.

16. BUT A MUSICAL MIGHT STILL BE COMING.

In early 2015, Alan Menken announced that he was in the early stages of working on a musical adaptation of the movie. In May 2016, however, he told Digital Spy that the project had stalled out a bit. "Mrs. Doubtfire went through a change of lyricist, and then also a dramaturgical evolution," he said. "At the moment, the best thing I could say is
that it's on a creative hiatus." At this point, only time will tell if and when it happens.

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10 Adorable Facts About Cabbage Patch Kids
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Although there have been other toy crazes throughout the 20th century, none have inspired the frenzy that met the 1983 debut of the Cabbage Patch Kids. Mass-produced yet all slightly unique—each was computer-sorted to have a distinctive combination of hair, freckles, and expressions—the dolls were in such high demand that shoppers risked bodily injury to try and grab one: In 1983, a Wall Street Journal editorial asserted that more Americans were worried about obtaining a Kid than the possibility of nuclear annihilation at the height of the Cold War. Check out 10 facts behind this dimpled phenomenon.

1. THEY WERE ORIGINALLY CALLED “LITTLE PEOPLE.”

When Appalachian artist Xavier Roberts began handcrafting a line of soft-sculpture babies in Georgia in 1977, he referred to them as Little People and created an elaborate marketing plan around their distribution. Gift shops and other retailers would never “sell” the creations—instead, they were to be “adopted.” Roberts also corrected anyone who referred to them as “dolls,” preferring to call them “babies” or “kids.” The fantasy worked, and Roberts sold well over 200,000 of his Little People before signing a deal to mass-produce them in partnership with toymaker Coleco in 1982. Under the direction of advertising agent Roger Schlaifer, they were rebranded as Cabbage Patch Kids after the stock explanation parents sometimes use to describe reproduction—that kids come from “the cabbage patch.”

2. PEOPLE GOT TRAMPLED TRYING TO BUY THEM.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact appeal of the Cabbage Patch Kids, which were perceived by some as homely. Some psychologists interviewed at the time believed that the adoption fantasy appealed to children who were looking to be caregivers themselves, while others pointed to the idea that parents could “prove” their worth by securing a Kid for their offspring. Whatever the case, the 1983 holiday shopping season drove consumers into a frenzy. Stores receiving small quantities of the Kids saw shoppers stampede into stores, suffering broken bones, being trampled, and even attempting to bribe employees into reserving them before they hit the sales floor. One manager resorted to wielding a baseball bat as a form of crowd control.

3. XAVIER ROBERTS MADE ONE KID CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD.

As president of Original Appalachian Artworks (OAA), the company incorporated to produce the dolls in 1978, the colorful Roberts enjoyed perpetuating the fantasy of the Kids as actual personalities. One of his earlier creations, Otis Lee, was named Chairman of the Board and frequently traveled with Roberts, rarely leaving his side.

4. ONE DESPERATE PARENT FLEW TO LONDON TO GRAB A KID.

A vintage photo of a child receiving a Cabbage Patch Kid
Dennis Harper, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Frustrated with the lack of supply in North America, a Kansas City mailman named Ed Pennington flew to London during the 1983 season in order to pick up a Kid for his daughter, Leana. (In England, demand wasn’t quite as strong and few had to risk bodily injury to secure one.) Pennington bought five of the Kids and gave four of them away to charity.

5. COLECO HAD TO PULL ITS ADVERTISING.

With demand for the Kids prompting violence, Coleco was chastised by consumer advocates for a form of “false advertising,” running television commercials that attracted consumers when they knew they would be unable to produce enough supply. James Picken, the consumer affairs commissioner in Nassau County, New York, complained the ads amounted to “harassing small children.” The company soon backed off on their ad campaign, pulling TV spots. It was hardly a problem, though: The furor over the Kids brought them headlines—and free advertising—virtually around the clock.

6. ADOPTION GROUPS WEREN’T BIG FANS.

A child examines two Cabbage Patch Kid toys
alamosbasement, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The marketing for the Kids, which involved an “oath” to treat them with care along with a birth certificate and adoption papers, spoke to adolescent consumers but didn’t find support in the actual adoption community. Feeling the toy trivialized actual adoptive parents and their kids, adoption groups spoke out against the idea, fearing it would prompt children to believe people could be “bought.”

7. THERE WAS AN EASY WAY TO SMELL A FAKE.

With any consumer product sensation comes a parade of counterfeit merchandise, and the Kids were no exception. Consumer advocate groups pointed out that bogus Cabbage Patch items possessed an oily smell due to the industrial rags they had been stuffed with. Thought to be highly flammable, consumers were told to avoid Kids that reeked of kerosene.  

8. THEY SUED THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS.

A Cabbage Patch Kid sits on top of a dumpster
Al Pavangkanan, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Roberts and OAA didn’t find a lot to laugh about when Topps released their line of Garbage Pail Kids trading cards in 1985. Featuring the same rounded heads and cute expressions as the Cabbage Patch Kids, OAA charged that the booger-infested cards were infringing on their copyright. After a court battle, Topps agreed to alter the design of their cards.

9. ONE MODEL HAD TO BE RECALLED FOR EATING THEIR OWNERS' HAIR.

Cabbage Patch mania was on full display through 1984, when Coleco sold 20 million of the toys before demand finally began to wane. In an effort to bolster sales later in the decade, new Cabbage Patch licensee Mattel released Snack Time Kids, which were intended to gobble up fake French fries. Instead, the mechanism could bite down on their owner’s long hair and automatically begin chewing. After complaints—and one 911 call for a child in Connecticut unable to free herself from the Kid’s maw—Mattel offered refunds and withdrew the toy from stores.

10. THEY INSPIRED A MORBID URBAN LEGEND.

A set of Cabbage Patch Kids wearing hats
lisaclarke, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Cabbage Patch Kids that had suffered indignities like dog maulings, sibling amputations, or other misadventures could potentially be repaired by doll hospitals. But one morbid rumor sprang up in newspapers: if your Kid was beyond repair, Coleco would issue the toy a death certificate.  

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