"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Sunday, 31 March 2013


Sophomania is yet another word that isn’t in my Shorter Oxford Dictionary but which is defined on-line.  It means having the delusion that one is wise; an abnormal over estimation of one’s own wisdom; a passion for grandiose statements about one’s own wisdom. I suspect a lot of us suffer from this at one time or another!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

To take meat before grace

The phrase to take meat before grace is not what it seems.  To begin a meal before saying grace would at one time have been extremely impolite and certainly frowned upon in better households. But the phrase was actually a subtle way of referring to the taking of conjugal pleasures before marriage and that was even naughtier!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Fornale and subprime

   Fornale is an obsolete Scottish word.  It was an adjective and meant having spent one's money before it had been earned.  Surely it should be revived!  As Ammon Shea writes in 'Reading the Oxford English Dictionary' -  "We live in a nation that is overwhelmingly and crushingly in debt, awash in credit card debt and subprime mortgages.  How is it possible that the only word for 'spending money before it is earned' is an obsolete Scottish one?"

Interestingly, the word subprime was not one I had come across before.  It is an adjective referring to credit or loan arrangements for borrowers with a poor credit history. Typically subprime borrowing has unfavorable conditions such as high interest rates.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Guttle and guzzle

   To guttle was to swallow or to feed luxuriously - in which latter sense it was, according to Johnson, a low word.    Presumably it was a forerunner of the word guzzle which is still in use today and means to eat or drink (something) greedily.   Cars, for example, are notorious for guzzling petrol. 

Saturday, 23 March 2013



A friend signed off her e-mail recently with ‘ATB’.  I had to look it up so I thought I’d share it here.  ATB is ‘internetese’ for "All The Best".

P.S. I appreciate that internetese is not a word - yet!!  I have just invented it.  I wonder how long before it makes it into the Oxford Dictionary (and will I be quoted as the first written reference??)

Friday, 22 March 2013


   Gulosity is an archaic term for gluttony, greediness or voracity. 

Thursday, 21 March 2013


Often used as an exclamation, fiddlefaddle means balderdash; trivial nonsense.  It is falling out of favour and seems to have been largely superseded by far less polite words.  My spellchecker prefers it to be written fiddle faddle as two separate words. Having hit the autocorrect button to do that it then tells me faddle is not a word.  Fiddlefaddle!

Fiddlefaddle is also a verb though I have never heard it used as such.  It means to fritter away one's time; to fuss or waste time, especially over trivial matters.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013



A grammaticaster was a petty grammarian; a grammatical pedant. Dr Johnson considered one to be ‘a mean verbal pedant; a low grammarian’.  I wonder if he had anyone specific in mind?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


   To grabble is an archaic word and it simply meant to grope or feel eagerly with the hands. It appears onj Dr Johnson's Dictionary and was probably a corruption of the word grapple.

Monday, 18 March 2013


Scambler is an archaic term for someone who dropped in uninvited at meal times; a bold intruder upon the hospitality of others; a sponge. Its origins are Scottish. 
The word is also synonymous with scramble and shamble and can mean to get along as best one can. 

A further meaning of the word was entirely the opposite of our mean sponge – it meant to throw money on the ground so that people would scramble for it.