16 Marvelous Old Words for Munching We Need to Bring Back

Hulton Archive // Getty Images
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Whether you’re enjoying a movie or eating your feelings, it’s hard to resist a good munch—or as the kids say these days, a nom nom nom. So why not learn about some old words for munching while polishing off those potato chips? Some older words for nibbling and gnawing are onomatopoeic (like scrunch) and other are scientific-sounding (like commanducate). But they’re all worthy words that deserve another chance to get stuck in the lexical craw.

1. AND 2. CHAMM AND CHANK

Chamm, around since the 1930s, is a predecessor to champ, as in chewing rather than being the champion of the world. Speaking of champing, people and animals have been chanking since the 1500s. A use in Gene Stratton-Porter's 1913 novel Laddie: A True Blue Story described some pigs who “chanked up every peach that fell.”

3. AND 4. DENTICATE AND CHUMP

The rare word denticate has an obvious resemblance to one of the most chew-centric professions, dentistry. A 1799 use in Sporting Magazine locates this word right in the lexicon of chewing: “Masticate, denticate, chump, grind and swallow.” Chump? Yep, even chump has been a word for chewing, as seen in an 1854 use by William Makepeace Thackeray: “Sir Brian reads his letters, and chumps his dry toast.”

5. BEGNAW

The prefix be- just doesn’t make new words the way it used to, but it has a lengthy resume of old-timey terms that can make an lexicon-lover smile. One is begnaw, which Shakespeare used figuratively in Richard III: “The worme of conscience still begnaw thy soule.”

6. AND 7. SCRUNCH AND SCRANCH

Few words sounds as much like their meaning as scrunch. Nobody scrunches when they eat applesauce or soup: This is a noisy word, as indicated by a use in a discussion of West English dialects from 1825: “A person may be said to scrunch an apple or a biscuit, if in eating it he made a noise.” You can also scranch.

8. NATTER

The first meanings of this term refer to wagging the gums in another sense: complaining, nagging, gossiping, and yammering. From there it spread to some other uses of the mouth: gnawing and nibbling. The term appeared in John Dalby’s 1888 book Mayroyd of Mytholm: A Romance of the Fells: “It would continually natter at David's heart.” Since that use was figurative, no need to call the cardiologist.

9. AND 10. COMMANDUCATE AND MANDUCATE

Commanducate, at least as old as the late 1500s, means “to chew thoroughly,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. On the other hand, manducate can mean chewing in general but sometimes has an-ultra specific meaning: to partake of the Eucharist.

11. MUNGE

A less religious sort of consumption is suggested by munge, which is found in Hugh Kelly’s 1770 comedy A Word to the Wise: “You above, in cake-consuming bow'rs, Who thro' whole Sundays munge away your hours.”

12., 13., AND 14. KNABBLE, KNAPPLE, AND KNAB

Knabbling is nibbling, at least since the 1500s. Like a lot of chew words, this one can be figurative. A use in Gideon Harvey’s 1666 book Morbus Anglicus describes “a bone for every Readers discretion to knabble at.” You can also knapple and knab. Roger L'Estrange’s 1692 book Fables of Aesop contains a line that’s relatable in any century: “I had much rather lie Knabbing of Crusts ... in my Own Little Hole.”

15. CHUMBLE

Around since the early 1800s, chumble is one of many chewing words containing the consonant blend ch. An OED example from 1941 describes the worst nightmare of a clothing store owner: “I can hear the sound of moths chumbling the clothes in that chest.”

16. FLETCHERIZE

All these words have their charms, but none have the back story of fletcherize. A Victorian author named Horace Fletcher was called “The Great Masticator” for advocating a preposterous amount of chewing before swallowing. His chew-happy philosophy was called Fletcherism, and a 1904 use in The Daily Chronicle includes another variation: “The Fletcherites preach the gospel of chewing.” A use from Literary Digest in 1903 explains what must have been a novel term: “It is now proposed to speak of the ‘Fletcherizing’ of food that is thoroughly chewed.” And a use in O. Henry’s 1910 book Strictly Business shows how this term could be used figuratively: “Annette Fletcherized large numbers of romantic novels.” All hail Horace Fletcher: the patron saint of chewing.

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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