10 Bizarre Obsolete Words From the English Language

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Have you ever been gorgonized during a boring business meeting, and all you wanted to do was go home to your fishwife and bantling and be a slugabed? Obviously, no one uses those terms anymore. The English language is constantly evolving, in unexpected ways. Without this process of literary evolution, so to speak, we would never see anyone “twerk” or take a “selfie.” (And maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.) Just as new words are added, old words and terms fall out of use. We rounded up a few strange words once used in English that you never hear anymore.

 

10. Snollygoster

Donald Trump: A snollygoster in action? © Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump: A snollygoster in action? © Gage Skidmore

Many Germans believe a snallygaster is a mythical, dragon-like creature that supposedly preys on children and livestock. A snollygoster is something much worse — a politician with no principles, who will say or do anything to get elected. Although the term arose in the 1800s, President Harry S. Truman is said to have used it to describe Republicans. Many Democrats and Republicans today agree the word fits Donald Trump.

 

9. Bantling

They're children, not bantlings. © Sergey Novikov

They’re children, not bantlings. © Sergey Novikov

This word is commonly defined as describing a young child. However, the term, first found in use in 1593, also serves as a synonym for bastard. In fact, it is derived from the German word bankling, with “bank” meaning “bench,” as in, “a child conceived on a bench.” Meaning you would not want to tell your pastor, “Me and the missus are expecting a little bantling.”

 

8. Slugabed

Getting a good night's sleep helps boost your body's immune system.

Wake up, you lazy slugabed! © Luna van Doorne/Shutterstock.com

According to OxfordDictionaries.com, slugabed means, “A lazy person who stays in bed late.” Improper use: A person who wakes up at 4:45 a.m. every weekday to go to work, then sleeps until 10 a.m. on Saturday, is not a slugabed. That person is merely “tired” and “sleeping in.” The term dates to the late 16th century.

 

7. Breadwallet

Your body produces melanin to protect itself from UV rays.

Women show their breadwallets on the beach. © Hartphotography/Dreamstime.com

The Dictionary of the American West says people once used this word to describe a person’s stomach. (Apparently because the words “stomach,” “belly,” and “gut” weren’t descriptive enough.) But when someone says, “that cowboy has a huge breadwallet,” it sounds like a rich cowboy, not a fat cowboy.

 

6. Mooncalf

A mooncalf moment. © Ezume Images/Shutterstock.com.

A mooncalf moment. © Ezume Images/Shutterstock.com.

From Merriam-Webster.com: “A foolish or absent-minded person.” Possible use we wish we had heard in dialogue from a classic 1960s sitcom: “Gilligan, stop being such a silly mooncalf!” Actually, farmers once used the term mooncalf to refer to aborted fetuses in farm animals, believing the full moon caused the stillbirth. And of course, mooncalves are creatures in the Harry Potter series.

 

5. Breech

The awkward moment when the handyman flashes his breech. (And is this a bizarre company logo, or what?) © Leo Reynolds

The awkward moment when the handyman flashes his breech. (And is this a bizarre company logo, or what?) © Leo Reynolds

One archaic definition is a person’s buttocks, as in, “I saw the plumber’s entire breech when he bent over to fix the sink.” As you might have deduced, this is the origin for the old-fashioned word “breeches,” or “britches” (aka trousers, pants, etc.) that people wear. Breech is actually a very old word, dating to Middle English; according to Dictionary.Reference.com, its first use came before 1000.

 

4. Bossloper

Being a bossloper is a tough life, but someone's got to do it. © Robert Lawton

Being a bossloper is a tough life, but someone’s got to do it. © Robert Lawton

A bossloper is “an independent fur trader.” Think hairy mountain man. A form of the Dutch word boschloper, it first appeared in use at least by the mid-1700s.

 

3. Crapulous

They're feeling great now, but some will feel crapulous in the morning. © Pressmaster

They’re feeling great now, but some will feel crapulous in the morning. © Pressmaster

This bizarre word first appeared in print in 1536. According to Merriam-Webster.com, there are two meanings, 1) “Marked by intemperance, especially in eating or drinking; and 2) Sick from excessive indulgence in liquor.” The dictionary notes that an ancient Greek word, crapula, means a headache caused by excess drinking. Bottom line: Avoid too much booze, and you won’t spend the next morning feeling crapulous.

 

2. Gorgonize

This creature appears to have been gorgonized. © Adam Y Zhang

This creature appears to have been gorgonized. © Adam Y Zhang

In Greek mythology, Medusa and her two other snake-haired gorgon sisters were supposedly able to turn a person to stone with a single glance. Gorgonize, first used around 1600, is a verb meaning to paralyze or mesmerize someone by looking at them. Greatest possible use in a sentence: “The boring Greek Mythology teacher gorgonized me and I fell asleep in class.”

 

1. Fishwife

Do not call this woman a fishwife. © Adam Cohn

Do not call this woman a fishwife. © Adam Cohn

Literally, this means a woman who sells fish. But even if your wife works 50 hours a week selling fish at the fish market, do not call her a good fishwife. Otherwise, she might become vulgar and abusive, which is an alternate definition of fishwife. The word dates to the early 15th century.

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