15 Obscure Words Every Pet Owner Needs in Their Vocabulary

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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.

100 Words Turning 100 This Year

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YouTube

In 1919, just a few months after World War I came to an end, the phrase World War 2 made its debut. The Oxford English Dictionary described it as "a reference to an imagined future war arising out of the social upheaval consequent upon the First World War." Twenty years later, the event wouldn't seem so imaginary.

Join editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy as she journeys into the past to dig up a whopping 100 words that are turning 100 this year in our all-new Mental Floss List Show. Whip out your OED and read along as you check out the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!

What's the Difference Between Tequila and Mezcal?

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iStock.com/mediaphotos

Aside from tacos, enchiladas, and other tasty tortilla-wrapped treats, tequila and mezcal are among some of Mexico’s best-known offerings in the food and beverage category. These tipples, made from the agave plant, are so embedded in the country’s culture that Mexico City even has a museum dedicated to the two drinks, and Jose Cuervo operates a "tequila train" to none other than the city of Tequila. These beverages can be used to make a variety of cocktails, from the tequila sunrise to the mezcalita, but unless you’re a bartender or a connoisseur of spirits, you might not know the difference between the two. Is mezcal just fancier tequila?

Not exactly. Tequila is a type of mezcal, but the reverse isn’t always true. It’s similar to the distinction between champagne and sparkling wine, in which the name of the beverage depends on whether it was produced in the Champagne region of France or elsewhere. While mezcal can be produced anywhere in Mexico, tequila is made in the Mexican state of Jalisco (though a few exceptions do apply).

Tequila and mezcal also differ in the ingredients from which they are derived. Mezcal can come from any of the dozens of agave plants—a type of desert succulent—that are grown throughout Mexico. Tequila is made specifically from blue agave and, depending on the variety and brand, a bottle will contain between 51 percent and 100 percent of the plant-based nectar. According to The Tierra Group, a wholesaler of agave products, blue agave nectar is especially sweet because it’s 80 percent fructose, per Mexico’s regulations.

Lastly, tequila and mezcal taste different because of the ways in which they are prepared. Mezcal tends to have a savory, smoky, earthy flavor because the agave hearts (or piñas) are left cooking for several days in a fire pit that has been lined with volcanic rock and covered with agave leaves and earth. The piñas destined to end up in tequila, on the other hand, are often cooked in a brick oven, then crushed up to extract the juice.

If you ever feel adventurous at the liquor store and decide to bring home a bottle of mezcal, just keep in mind that there’s a particular way to drink it. “The first mistake many people make is pouring mezcal in a shot glass and pouring it down their throat,” Chris Reyes, a mixologist at New York City’s Temerario bar and restaurant told Liquor.com. Instead, the spirit is best sipped in a clay cup known as a jicarita.

Some words of advice if you do go shopping for mezcal: If you ever see a worm at the bottom of the bottle, that means it’s probably not a very good mezcal, according to Reyes. By contrast, tequila bottles should never have worms in them (despite the common misconception). So if you’re looking to avoid invertebrate-infused concoctions at all costs, tequila is your best bet.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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