Dude! That doesn’t mean what you think it means. Part Two

Writers of historical fiction occasionally find themselves at the mercy of an evolving language. Many words which once had common, non-controversial meanings, have changed over the years and now carry linguistic baggage our ancestors would have never imagined. Two words in particular fall into this category, though there are doubtless many more. I’m referring to “gay” and “chubby.”

I was quite well aware that the first of these had a decided shift in meaning. The “Gay 90s” had nothing to do with homosexuality nor did the phrase, “We had a gay old time.” Sadly, those older meanings will likely die off from disuse.

The revamped meaning of “chubby,” on the other hand, caught me completely by surprise. My son was kind enough to shed some light on the word’s contemporary role in verbal exchanges. Nowadays, it refers to an erection. Oh well.

What I find far more interesting are words which sound nasty, but aren’t. Though they’re unlikely to pop up in contemporary dialog, they weren’t all that rare a hundred or more years ago. Consider this gem: Clatterfart. You’ll have to go back a few hundred years to find the original definition of it. The word refers to a gossip or someone who simply can’t keep their mouth shut. Oh, how I’m itching to dish that one out at a dinner party!

Know anyone who has ever ruined a document of some kind by scribbling on it? There’s a word for him, or her, and it’s as delicious as it sounds. Such folk are common bumfiddlers.

One should take great care not to fall victim to a gallgroper. In more common, non-Tudor parlance, a gallgroper is a swindler.

If you’re off on a hike, you may want to fetch your knobstick before you depart. In the 19th century, the word was also used to refer to someone who takes the job of a laborer on strike.

Here’s one I’ve suffered from for as long as I can remember: peniaphobia. Now stop looking at me like that! It means a fear of poverty. Sheesh.

Then there’s the ever charming sack-butt, which comes with two meanings depending on whether it’s spelled with one T or two.  The latter refers to a wine barrel, while the former is the name of a musical instrument similar to a modern-day trombone.

The 17th century Scots have passed along an interesting member of this verbal caste: it’s tit-bore, or laid out in full, tit-bore-tat-bore, which is merely another name for peekaboo. In the same vein, hide-and-go-seek was once called hitty-titty. Charming, no? Perhaps this linguistic evolution isn’t such a bad thing after all.

I’ll leave you with a trio of polysyllabic monsters frequently heard in the 19th century. We’ll start with the common gallinipper. Give up? It’s a mosquito. If one finds himself needing to leave town with great haste, one might say he absquatulated. And finally, since my imagination has nearly reached this condition, we have exfluncticate which means to destroy completely.

I had hoped to end this with a witty compilation of several of these gems, but sadly, I’m just not up to the challenge. I have high hopes, however, that some of you may come up with something along those lines. Please feel free to leave them in the comments section. I promise not to be grum, let alone level a sockdolager your way. <smile>



About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Historical writing, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Dude! That doesn’t mean what you think it means. Part Two

  1. sonyabravermanaolcom says:

    Only YOU could write something like THAT!
    Good work.

  2. My Camel says:

    If I could only retain this information, I know my level of literacy would increase 3 fold. But sadly enough I have to rely on you to remind me daily of these meaningful word of days gone by, so I can speak in “past-talk”. A drink might help.

  3. Doris Reidy says:


  4. MaryCan says:

    I am struck speechless, thankfully.

  5. Michael Hammel says:

    Sorry I didn’t grasp that part two was really today’s part one. Therefore skin I replied to part one of part two. And finally I’ve had a beer or two/3/4/5 etc ad nausium.


    Michael A. Hammel (My Camel) 🐫 [WB9GMO] Canton, GA USASA (US Army Security Agency) 0582L68 (Morse Intercept & Spanish Linguist) Ft. Devens MA ’64 76th USASA SOU Taiwan ’64-March ’66 8th RRU Phu Bai Vietnam March ’66-March ’67 Vint Hill FS Virginia April ’67-March ’68 Moderator and owner:http://groups.yahoo.com/groups/8thrrfs


  6. Betty says:

    I’m glad I don’t have to deal with stuff like this. My Regency folk are much more refined.

  7. Barry says:

    Hey Josh. Didn’t Disney put out a movie back in the day about a guy and his gal in a flying car. I think they sang a song called Chubby Chubby Bang Bang.

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