14 Wonderful Old Words for Walking We Should Bring Back

Artist: Lucien Davis // Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Artist: Lucien Davis // Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Now that spring is here, no matter how committed you are to cars, it’s hard to resist an occasional mosey or stroll. Whether you prefer ambling through the park or zigzagging down a busy sidewalk, this is a lovely time to hoof it. Lucky for us all, the history of English has plenty of rare or forgotten words for walking that will put a glide in your stride.

1. AND 2. SNAFFLE AND SOODLE

These fanciful-sounding words have no definitive origin: They probably just sounded right to someone who was sauntering, which is what they both mean. An Oxford English Dictionary (OED) example from 1821 describes someone “soodling up and down the street.”

3. NOCTAMBULATE

If you sleepwalk—or just like to stroll about after dark—you have a tendency to noctambulate, or walk around at night.

4. SNUDGE

The first sense of snudging refers to being cheap, stingy, miserly, and Scrooge-like. Such penny-pinching behavior isn’t associated with great posture, and perhaps that’s why the word later referred to walking with a bit of a stoop. An English-French dictionary from 1677 captures the essence of snudgery: “To Snudge along, or go like an old Snudge, or like one whose Head is full of business.” Snudging is a little like trudging.

5. PLODGE

The Scottish and English word plodging has been wading through the lexical muck and mire since the late 1700s, and it refers to icky, slow, molasses-type walking. Plodge is probably a variation of plod. This word isn’t totally out of use, as a 1995 use from British magazine The Countryman illustrates: “Northbound Pennine Wayfarers, plodging through the interminable peat-bogs of the North Pennines.” Even if you have a spring in your step, it’s tough to skip merrily through the peat-bogs.

6. STROAM

Do you like to stroll? Are you a fan of roaming? Then you should give stroaming a try. This is a word blend, just like brunch. In her 1796 novel Camilla, Frances Burney described a character who “stroamed into the ball-room, with the most visible marks of his unfitness for appearing in it.” The OED indicates that stroaming involves “long strides” and/or idleness, so watch your form and attitude when out on a stroam.

7. ANTEAMBULATE

This word sounds like it refers to the action of a rude ruffian: walking smack dab in front of someone. Actually, the word is as polite as a pancake: In the 1600s, anteambulate referred to walking in front of someone to show them the way, like an usher.

8. CAT-FOOT

Cats aren’t known for clomping around like Clydesdales; they’re stealthy. That’s why cat-footing refers to walking that’s more subtle and graceful than that of the average oaf. In Harry L. Wilson’s 1916 book Somewhere in Red Gap, this word appears in characteristic fashion: “…I didn't yell any more. I cat-footed. And in a minute I was up close.” Cat-footing is a requirement for a career as a cat burglar.

9. NUDDLE

Back in the 1500s, nuddle had a few meanings that congregated low to the ground: To nuddle was to push something along with your nose or nudge forward in some other horizontal manner. By the 1800s, nuddle started referring to stooped walking, the kind of non-jaunty mosey in which someone’s head is hanging low. You can hear a touch of contempt in a phrase from an 1854 glossary by A. E. Baker: “How he goes nuddling along.”

10. AREOBATE

This rare word comes to us from translations of Greek playwright Aristophanes: It literally means to walk on the air, but actually means to walk as if on air. What a perfect word for buoyant sauntering, after, say, receiving good news.

11. PEDESTRIANATE

This word has been around since the mid-1800s. Here it is in an 1864 issue of the journal Notes & Queries: “I have been pedestrianating through a corner of Oxfordshire.”

12. AND 13. SHOGGLE AND WARPLE

Since the 1500s, shoggle has been a word for various sorts of shaking—no wonder it became a word for unsteady walking in the 1800s. Zombies and toddlers are big shogglers. Another term sometimes applied to such precarious ambling is warpling.

14. OVERSUPINATE

People who jog, run, and sprint have their share of problems that slow-moving people can barely comprehend. One is oversupination. As the OED defines it, to oversupinate is “To run or walk so that the weight falls upon the outer sides of the feet to a greater extent than is necessary, desirable, etc.” A 1990 Runner’s World article gets to the crux of the problem: “It's hard to ascertain exactly what percentage of the running population oversupinates, but it's a fraction of the people who think they do.”

13 Words That Changed From Negative to Positive Meanings (or Vice Versa)

grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images
grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images

One of the main reasons for the existence of slang is to keep the outsiders from understanding the insiders. Making up new words is one way to achieve this, but it’s not the only one. A favorite trick for the young to play on the old is to take an established word and completely change its connotations from bad to good. In recent decades we’ve seen sick, wicked, ill, and bad recruited to the “hearty positive endorsement” side. While some would lament the decline of language suggested by such wanton disregard for word meaning, this kind of meaning switch is nothing new. Here are 13 fine, upstanding words that long ago switched from negative to positive (or vice versa).

1. Fun

Fun was first a verb meaning "to cheat or hoax." It came from fon, an old word for "fool." It still retains some of that sense in “make fun of,” but now also means "a merry good time."

2. Fond

Fond also goes back to fon, and it once meant "foolish and weak-minded." It came to then mean over-affectionate in a negative, cloying way. Now it’s positive, but at root, being fond of something is basically being a fool for it.

3. Terrific

The root of terrific is terror, and it first meant terror-inducing. It then became an exaggerated intensifier (“terrifically good!” = so good it’s terrifying) and then a positive term all on its own.

4. Tremendous

Like terrific, tremendous has its roots in fear. Something tremendous was so terrible it caused trembling or shaking. It also became an intensifier (“tremendously good!”) before it went all the way positive.

5. Awe

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, awe originally referred to “immediate and active fear.” It then became associated with religious, reverential fear, and then to a feeling of being humbled at the sublime. While awful retains the negative sense, awesome took on the positive one.

6. Grin

To grin was to bare the teeth in a threatening display of anger or pain. It then became the term for a forced, fake smile, before settling into an expression of happiness.

7. Smart

Smart was first used in Old English to describe things that cause pain. Weapons, nails, and darts were smart. Shakespeare’s Henry VI has the phrase “as smart as lizards’ stings.” It took on connotations of sharpness, quickness, intensity, and, through smart, pain-causing words or wit came to stand for quick intelligence and fashionableness.

8. Egregious

Egregious was a positive word that turned negative. It used to mean "eminent and distinguished," but because people started using it sarcastically, it came to mean "bad and offensive."

9. Sad

Sad started with the meaning of "satisfied or sated," also sometimes "steadfast" or "firm." It then went from meaning "serious," to "grave," to "sorrowful."

10. Smug

Smug first meant "crisp, tidy, and presentable." A well-dressed person was smug in this way, and it later came to mean "self-satisfied and conceited."

11. Devious

Devious comes from de via, "off the way." It once meant "distant" or "off the road." It took on the meaning of wandering—there were devious comets, devious minnows—and, because to do wrong was to stray from the right path, it eventually came to mean "scheming and deceitful."

12. Facetious

To be facetious was once to have elegant, gracious, high style, and to be jokey and witty. It came from a Latin term for playful humorousness. It is still connected with a type of humor, but with an unproductive or annoying connotation.

13. Bully

Bully used to be a term of endearment for men or women. A bully could be a good friend or a sweetheart. It then came to stand for a swaggering braggart and than a coward who picks on others.

This list was first published in 2015 and republished in 2019.

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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