CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

How to Swear Like an Old Prospector

Original image
Getty Images

Now that swearing like a pirate has jumped the shark, isn't it time we exhumed another subgenre of anachronistic curse words? To save us all from another "scurvy dogs" joke -- one more and I will walk the bloody plank -- I humbly propose replacing all naughty pirate jargon with crusty old-prospector talk, which is just as colorful, if not more expletive-laced. But this time, let's be smart about it -- nerdy, even -- and figure out from whence they came before we start throwing them around willy-nilly. To that end, here are my top five old prospector curses, and their respective, only slightly questionable, etymologies:

1. To dadburn
Function: verb
Definition: to curse
Etymology: "Dad" is a substitute for "God" in turn-of-the-century Southern U.S. vernacular. "Godburn" certainly sounds like Old-Testament-style divine retribution; ie, to curse.
Use it in a sentence: "Dadburned boll weevil done 'et my crop!"

2. To hornswoggle
Function: verb
Definition: To embarrass, disconcert or confuse.
Etymology: Belongs to a group of "fancified" words popular in the 19th century American West, invented to ridicule sophisticates back east. (Funny, it didn't quite work out that way.)
Use it in a sentence: "I'll be hornswoggled!"

3. Sockdolager
Function: noun
Definition: A big finish.
Etymology: A mis-heard, semi-spoonerism of the word "doxologer," a colloquial New England rendering of "doxology," which was a Puritan term for the collective raising of voices in song at the end of a worship service. Thus, a "sockdolager" is something truly exceptional -- the end-all-be-all.
Use it in a sentence: "Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologisin' old man-trap!"
Fun fact: The above line appears in Tom Taylor's play Our American Cousin, which was performed on the evening of April 14th, 1865 at Ford's Theater. It got a big laugh from the crowd, which John Wilkes Booth used to muffle the sound of the gunshot that assassinated President Lincoln.

4. Consarn
Function: noun
Definition: The whole of something, though often misused as "damn."
Etymology: Unknown, though it pops up in British literature as early as the eighteenth century. An educated guess: it's related to concern, a business establishment or enterprise.
Use it in a quip by 19th century American humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw: "Put an Englishman into the Garden of Eden, and he would find fault with the whole blarsted consarn!"

5. Dumfungled
Function: adjective
Definition: Used up
Etymology: Also unknown, though it was coined during the Great Neologism Craze of the 1830s, and its common usage didn't survive the turn of the century.
Use it in a sentence: "Ye'd best put that dumfungled hoss out to pasture!"

Got some anachronistic filth of your own? Let us know!

Original image
iStock
arrow
Words
'Froyo,' 'Troll,' and 'Sriracha' Added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Original image
iStock

Looking for the right word to describe the time you spend drinking before heading out to a party, or a faster way to say “frozen yogurt?" Merriam-Webster is here to help. The 189-year-old English vocabulary giant has just added 250 new words and definitions to their online dictionary, including pregame and froyo.

New words come and go quickly, and it’s Merriam-Webster’s job to keep tabs on the terms that have staying power. “As always, the expansion of the dictionary mirrors the expansion of the language, and reaches into all the various cubbies and corners of the lexicon,” they wrote in their announcement.

Froyo is just one of the recent additions to come from the culinary world. Bibimbap, a Korean rice dish; choux pastry, a type of dough; and sriracha, a Thai chili sauce that’s been around for decades but has just recently exploded in the U.S., are now all listed on Merriam-Webster's website.

Of course, the internet was once again a major contributor to this most recent batch of words. Some new terms, like ransomware (“malware that requires the victim to pay a ransom to access encrypted files”) come from the tech world, while words like troll ("to harass, criticize, or antagonize [someone] especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts”) were born on social media. Then there’s the Internet of Things, a concept that shifts the web off our phones and computers and into our appliances.

Hive mind, dog whistle, and working memory are just a few of the new entries to receive the Merriam-Webster stamp of approval. To learn more about how some words make it into the dictionary while others get left out, check these behind-the-scenes secrets of dictionary editors.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Words
How New Words Become Mainstream
Original image
iStock

If you used the words jeggings, muggle, or binge-watch in a sentence 30 years ago, you would have likely been met with stares of confusion. But today these words are common enough to hold spots in the Oxford English Dictionary. Such lingo is a sign that English, as well as any other modern language, is constantly evolving. But the path a word takes to enter the general lexicon isn’t always a straightforward one.

In the video below, TED-Ed lays out how some new words become part of our everyday speech while others fade into obscurity. Some words used by English speakers are borrowed from other languages, like mosquito (Spanish), avatar (Sanskrit), and prairie (French). Other “new” words are actually old ones that have developed different meanings over time. Nice, for example, used to only mean silly, foolish, or ignorant, and meat was used as blanket term to describe any solid food given to livestock.

The internet alone is responsible for a whole new section of our vocabulary, but even the words most exclusive to the web aren’t always original. For instance, the word meme was first used by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.

To learn more about the true origins of the words we use on a regular basis, check out the full story from TED-Ed below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios