14 Wonderful Old Words for Walking We Should Bring Back

Artist: Lucien Davis // Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Artist: Lucien Davis // Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Now that spring is here, no matter how committed you are to cars, it’s hard to resist an occasional mosey or stroll. Whether you prefer ambling through the park or zigzagging down a busy sidewalk, this is a lovely time to hoof it. Lucky for us all, the history of English has plenty of rare or forgotten words for walking that will put a glide in your stride.

1. AND 2. SNAFFLE AND SOODLE

These fanciful-sounding words have no definitive origin: They probably just sounded right to someone who was sauntering, which is what they both mean. An Oxford English Dictionary (OED) example from 1821 describes someone “soodling up and down the street.”

3. NOCTAMBULATE

If you sleepwalk—or just like to stroll about after dark—you have a tendency to noctambulate, or walk around at night.

4. SNUDGE

The first sense of snudging refers to being cheap, stingy, miserly, and Scrooge-like. Such penny-pinching behavior isn’t associated with great posture, and perhaps that’s why the word later referred to walking with a bit of a stoop. An English-French dictionary from 1677 captures the essence of snudgery: “To Snudge along, or go like an old Snudge, or like one whose Head is full of business.” Snudging is a little like trudging.

5. PLODGE

The Scottish and English word plodging has been wading through the lexical muck and mire since the late 1700s, and it refers to icky, slow, molasses-type walking. Plodge is probably a variation of plod. This word isn’t totally out of use, as a 1995 use from British magazine The Countryman illustrates: “Northbound Pennine Wayfarers, plodging through the interminable peat-bogs of the North Pennines.” Even if you have a spring in your step, it’s tough to skip merrily through the peat-bogs.

6. STROAM

Do you like to stroll? Are you a fan of roaming? Then you should give stroaming a try. This is a word blend, just like brunch. In her 1796 novel Camilla, Frances Burney described a character who “stroamed into the ball-room, with the most visible marks of his unfitness for appearing in it.” The OED indicates that stroaming involves “long strides” and/or idleness, so watch your form and attitude when out on a stroam.

7. ANTEAMBULATE

This word sounds like it refers to the action of a rude ruffian: walking smack dab in front of someone. Actually, the word is as polite as a pancake: In the 1600s, anteambulate referred to walking in front of someone to show them the way, like an usher.

8. CAT-FOOT

Cats aren’t known for clomping around like Clydesdales; they’re stealthy. That’s why cat-footing refers to walking that’s more subtle and graceful than that of the average oaf. In Harry L. Wilson’s 1916 book Somewhere in Red Gap, this word appears in characteristic fashion: “…I didn't yell any more. I cat-footed. And in a minute I was up close.” Cat-footing is a requirement for a career as a cat burglar.

9. NUDDLE

Back in the 1500s, nuddle had a few meanings that congregated low to the ground: To nuddle was to push something along with your nose or nudge forward in some other horizontal manner. By the 1800s, nuddle started referring to stooped walking, the kind of non-jaunty mosey in which someone’s head is hanging low. You can hear a touch of contempt in a phrase from an 1854 glossary by A. E. Baker: “How he goes nuddling along.”

10. AREOBATE

This rare word comes to us from translations of Greek playwright Aristophanes: It literally means to walk on the air, but actually means to walk as if on air. What a perfect word for buoyant sauntering, after, say, receiving good news.

11. PEDESTRIANATE

This word has been around since the mid-1800s. Here it is in an 1864 issue of the journal Notes & Queries: “I have been pedestrianating through a corner of Oxfordshire.”

12. AND 13. SHOGGLE AND WARPLE

Since the 1500s, shoggle has been a word for various sorts of shaking—no wonder it became a word for unsteady walking in the 1800s. Zombies and toddlers are big shogglers. Another term sometimes applied to such precarious ambling is warpling.

14. OVERSUPINATE

People who jog, run, and sprint have their share of problems that slow-moving people can barely comprehend. One is oversupination. As the OED defines it, to oversupinate is “To run or walk so that the weight falls upon the outer sides of the feet to a greater extent than is necessary, desirable, etc.” A 1990 Runner’s World article gets to the crux of the problem: “It's hard to ascertain exactly what percentage of the running population oversupinates, but it's a fraction of the people who think they do.”

13 Alternative Lyrics From “The Twelve Days of Christmas”

craftyjoe/iStock via Getty Images Plus (pear tree), snegok13/iStock via Getty Images Plus (peacock)
craftyjoe/iStock via Getty Images Plus (pear tree), snegok13/iStock via Getty Images Plus (peacock)

First published in English in 1780, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (actually the 12 days after Christmas) is thought to have originated in France as a children’s forfeit game with ever more elaborate gifts added to the collection, verse by verse, as a test of memory. Whatever its origins may be, however, as the carol grew in popularity throughout the 19th century, numerous versions and variations of its lyrics began to emerge.

Some of these differences still survive in different versions sung today: The traditional “five gold rings” are sometimes described as “five golden rings,” and while some performances describe what “my true love gave to me,” others say the gifts were “sent to me.” But these kinds of subtle differences are nothing compared to some of the gifts in the song’s earlier incarnations.

1. "A Very Pretty Peacock"

One early version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was recorded by the Scottish poet and artist William Scott Bell in 1892. Although most of Bell’s lyrics are identical to what we sing today, in his version each verse concludes not with “a partridge in a pear tree,” but with a considerably more ostentatious “very pretty peacock upon a pear tree.”

2. "Four Canary Birds"

In the original 1780 version, the “four calling birds” are instead described as “four colly birds,” colly—literally “coaly”—being an old English dialect word meaning “soot-black.” By the mid-19th century, however, the word colly had largely fallen out of use, leaving several Victorian editions of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to come up with their own replacements. “Colour’d birds” and even “curley birds” were used in some editions, while an exotic “four canary birds” were added to the lyrics of one version. The now standard “four calling birds” first appeared in the early 1900s.

3. And 4. "Eight Hares A-Running" and "Eleven Badgers Baiting"

In 1869, an article appeared in an English magazine called The Cliftonian that described a traditional Christmas in rural Gloucestershire, southwest England. The author of the piece wrote that he had heard some local carol singers singing a curious Christmas song, which he noted for the “peculiarity and the utter absurdity of the words.” After outlining the first two of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," he went on to explain that the carol “proceeds in this ascending manner until on the twelfth day of Christmas the young lady receives … [an] astounding tribute of true love”—among which are “eight hares a-running” and “eleven badgers baiting.”

5., 6., 7., And 8. "Seven Squabs A-Swimming," "Eight Hounds A-Running," "Nine Bears A-Beating," And "TEN Cocks A-Crowing"

One of the earliest American versions of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was listed in The American Journal of Folklore in 1900. Credited to a contributor from Salem, Massachusetts, and dated to “about 1800,” there are no pipers, drummers, maids, or swans here (and lords and ladies had a number change). Instead, in their place are “ten cocks a-crowing,” “nine bears a-beating,” “eight hounds a-running,” and “seven squabs a-swimming.”

9. And 10. "Ten Asses Racing" and "Eleven Bulls A-Beating"

An edition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" included in Folk Songs From Somerset published in 1911 discarded the “pipers piping” and “lords a-leaping” in favor of “eleven bulls a-beating” and “ten asses racing.” In fact, not even the partridge in the pear tree made the final cut here: In its place was a “part of a mistletoe bough.”

11. and 12. "Ten Ships A-Sailing" and "Eleven Ladies Spinning"

In an 1842 edition of Specimens of Lyric Poetry, out went the “ten drummers drumming” and the “eleven lords a-leaping” (downgraded to only nine lords, still a-leaping) and in came “ten ships a-sailing” and “eleven ladies spinning.” Not only that, but this edition also explained in a footnote how "The Twelve Days of Christmas" might once have been used: “Each child in succession repeats the gifts of the day, and forfeits for each mistake. The accumulative process is a favourite with children.”

13. "An Arabian Baboon"

An alternative Scots version of "The Twelve Day of Christmas" was reported in use in Scotland in the first half of the 19th century, before finding its way into a collection of Popular Rhymes of Scotland published in 1847. Although there are a handful of similarities between this version and the version we’d sing today (“ducks a-merry laying” and “swans a-merry swimming” both make an appearance), relatively little of what we’d recognize remains intact. “The king sent his lady on the first Yule day,” is the new opening line, and many of the gifts are given in sets of three rather than as part of a larger 12-part sequence—but it’s what the gifts themselves are that is the most striking. Alongside the swans and ducks, the king sends his lady “a bull that was brown,” “a goose that was gray,” “three plovers,” “a papingo-aye” (an old Scots dialect word for a parrot, although occasionally translated as peacock)—and, just when things can’t get any stranger, “an Arabian baboon.”

Merriam-Webster Declares They Its Word of the Year

artisteer/iStock via Getty Images
artisteer/iStock via Getty Images

Merriam-Webster’s 2019 Word of the Year is one that you probably use about a dozen times a day: they.

It’s been a big year for the gender-neutral pronoun, whose definition in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary was expanded to include its use as a singular nonbinary pronoun in September.

CNN notes that searches for they on the Merriam-Webster site have increased 313 percent over last year’s data, but the Word of the Year isn’t determined by growth alone. As Merriam-Webster senior editor and lexicographer Emily Brewster explained on WRSI, a word also needs to have considerable search spikes throughout the year in order to qualify.

“That says to us that a word is significant for that particular year; that it has some kind of important association with the actual year,” she said.

And they definitely had several landmark search spikes in 2019. According to CNN, look-ups peaked when nonbinary model Oslo Grace walked in Paris Fashion Week in January, when U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal disclosed that her child was gender-nonconforming in April, and during Pride celebrations around the world in June (this year was also the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots). Many major style guides, including the Associated Press, have recognized they as an accepted singular pronoun in the past few years.

In addition to the Word of the Year, Merriam-Webster also published their top 10 most-searched terms, which paint an intriguing portrait of 2019 in review. There were political terms like quid pro quo, impeach, and clemency, the word the—which spiked after The Ohio State University tried to trademark it in August—and the enigmatic word camp, which baffled many a fashion blogger as the theme of the Met Gala in May.

[h/t CNN]

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