The English language is a hodgepodge of words like hodgepodge. Derived from the French “hocher,” which means “to shake,” the British “hotchpot” comes to us from the pudding that bears its name. Later on hotchpotch was used to refer to both a kind of stew and property law. It became “hodge podge” after it stepped off a boat in America, lost its native letters in a poker game, got drunk in a blind alley and stumbled out wearing whatever was stickiest. It’s a common story in the history of lexicography.
So it should come as no surprise that the English language has a surfeit of intriguing words we’ve abandoned over the years. We can blame their disappearance on shifting cultural contexts or our lackluster public education, but if we reach back far enough we can unearth some doozies that deserve re-dissemination. In other words, here are ten English words we need to bring out of retirement.
10. Word: Anonymuncule
What it means: An insignificant, anonymous writer (some dictionaries also insert the word “petty”).
Why it should be pulled from retirement:
As anyone who writes for the internet can tell you, and anyone who’s read a comments section knows, the world wide web is full of petty, anonymous writers. Today’s anonymous commenters are simply known as that, but how much more apt is this antiquated appellation? “Anonymuncule” sounds like an infectious hemorrhoid sprouted from the internet’s collective pain.
9. Word: Bedswerver
What it means: A spouse that is unfaithful to their marriage vow (one who “swerves” from their rightful bed).
Why it should be pulled from retirement: There’s nothing funny about an affair but the word itself, much like “cheating,” is just a euphemism. How much more descriptive is “bedswerver” than “cheater,” and how much more evocative? No, don’t go out with Dick. Why not, Sally? “He’s a bedswerver!”
It’s so much more Shakespearean than “cheating bastard.”
8. Word: Bumwhush
What it means: Ruin and obscurity.
Why it should be pulled from retirement: After Dick’s bedswerving ways have ruined his family’s reputation, led his eldest daughter to teen pregnancy, put little Johnny in eternal detention and turned the family dog inside out, there’s nothing for us to say but that his household has “gone to the bumwhush.” (It also sounds like a synonym for the expression “gone all farty,” but this one’s legit.)
7. Word: Fudgel
What it means: An eighteenth century term for “pretending to work when you’re not actually doing anything at all.”
Why it should be pulled from retirement: You. Yes, you, hunched over your laptop and occasionally going clackety-clack on the keyboard when someone passes your cubicle. You’re fudgeling. We need to accept this fact and the fact that men and women have fudgeled for at least three hundred years.
6. Word: Griffonage
What it means: Illegible handwriting. (From the French “griffoner,” which means “to scribble.”)
Why it should be pulled from retirement: Because it’s a stylish word for chicken scratch but retains the fowl overtones. Plus it makes for better conversation. “Ever since Harry pulled Buckbeak’s dish away too soon, all he can write is griffonage.”
5. Word: Groke
What it means:
To stare at someone while they’re eating in hopes that they’ll give you some food.
Why it should be pulled from retirement: Like “tartle,” this is a Scottish phrase that sounds like what it is. Whether it’s your dog moping at you from under the table or your boyfriend silently begging for sex, we’ve all been groked at one time or another.
4. Word: Kakistocracy
What it means: A government that is run by its most unprincipled citizens.
Why we should pull it from retirement: Not only is this an elegant alternative to the many vituperative epithets we might hurl at our government, or any government, its castigation has a built-in poop joke. Technically, “kakistocracy” derives from the Greek “kakistos” (meaning “worst”) and the suffix “-cracy” (government). But it also shares phonetic similarities with the latin root “cacāre,” which means “to defecate.” So really, we can translate kakistocracy to mean “shitty government.” Say it with class, folks.
3. Word: Quiddler
What it means: An individual who wastes time at work; a dawdler.
Why we should pull it from retirement: For some people, fudgeling is not enough. If you’ve worked in an office, chances are you have at least one quiddler in play. This is the guy you can find rummaging through the snack cabinets when you both know all the granola bars are gone. He may have a hobby or an extreme sport that he will tell you about at the drop of a hat. Sex, religion and politics may be taboo topics for most professional environments, but the quiddler proudly says, “Fuck that, Jesus.” The quiddler is always going for more coffee and, more likely than not, the quiddler is your boss.
2. Word: Rememble
What it means: This one was coined by Elan Cole on the radio show The Next Big Thing. It is “a false memory, especially of some place, object or even of one’s childhood.”
Why it should be pulled from retirement: It turns out a lot of what we consider our memories are really reconstructions, stories that we tell ourselves so often that they supplant whatever really happened. For clarity’s sake, it’s nice to know that, even if we don’t know which of our memories are false, at least we have a word for that. It beats saying, “I Matrixed myself.” That just sounds dirty.
1. Word: Slubberdegullion
What it means: A filthy, slobbering person.
Why it should be pulled from retirement: Granted, it’s a mouthful, but like “Slartibartfast,” there isn’t a single syllable in there that doesn’t sound wretched. It’s unpleasant, reminiscent of trying to eat and upchuck a gastropod at the same time. That analogy might be dubious, but the insult is impossible to mistake.