16 Marvelous Old Words for Munching We Need to Bring Back

Hulton Archive // Getty Images
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Whether you’re enjoying a movie or eating your feelings, it’s hard to resist a good munch—or as the kids say these days, a nom nom nom. So why not learn about some old words for munching while polishing off those potato chips? Some older words for nibbling and gnawing are onomatopoeic (like scrunch) and other are scientific-sounding (like commanducate). But they’re all worthy words that deserve another chance to get stuck in the lexical craw.

1. AND 2. CHAMM AND CHANK

Chamm, around since the 1930s, is a predecessor to champ, as in chewing rather than being the champion of the world. Speaking of champing, people and animals have been chanking since the 1500s. A use in Gene Stratton-Porter's 1913 novel Laddie: A True Blue Story described some pigs who “chanked up every peach that fell.”

3. AND 4. DENTICATE AND CHUMP

The rare word denticate has an obvious resemblance to one of the most chew-centric professions, dentistry. A 1799 use in Sporting Magazine locates this word right in the lexicon of chewing: “Masticate, denticate, chump, grind and swallow.” Chump? Yep, even chump has been a word for chewing, as seen in an 1854 use by William Makepeace Thackeray: “Sir Brian reads his letters, and chumps his dry toast.”

5. BEGNAW

The prefix be- just doesn’t make new words the way it used to, but it has a lengthy resume of old-timey terms that can make an lexicon-lover smile. One is begnaw, which Shakespeare used figuratively in Richard III: “The worme of conscience still begnaw thy soule.”

6. AND 7. SCRUNCH AND SCRANCH

Few words sounds as much like their meaning as scrunch. Nobody scrunches when they eat applesauce or soup: This is a noisy word, as indicated by a use in a discussion of West English dialects from 1825: “A person may be said to scrunch an apple or a biscuit, if in eating it he made a noise.” You can also scranch.

8. NATTER

The first meanings of this term refer to wagging the gums in another sense: complaining, nagging, gossiping, and yammering. From there it spread to some other uses of the mouth: gnawing and nibbling. The term appeared in John Dalby’s 1888 book Mayroyd of Mytholm: A Romance of the Fells: “It would continually natter at David's heart.” Since that use was figurative, no need to call the cardiologist.

9. AND 10. COMMANDUCATE AND MANDUCATE

Commanducate, at least as old as the late 1500s, means “to chew thoroughly,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. On the other hand, manducate can mean chewing in general but sometimes has an-ultra specific meaning: to partake of the Eucharist.

11. MUNGE

A less religious sort of consumption is suggested by munge, which is found in Hugh Kelly’s 1770 comedy A Word to the Wise: “You above, in cake-consuming bow'rs, Who thro' whole Sundays munge away your hours.”

12., 13., AND 14. KNABBLE, KNAPPLE, AND KNAB

Knabbling is nibbling, at least since the 1500s. Like a lot of chew words, this one can be figurative. A use in Gideon Harvey’s 1666 book Morbus Anglicus describes “a bone for every Readers discretion to knabble at.” You can also knapple and knab. Roger L'Estrange’s 1692 book Fables of Aesop contains a line that’s relatable in any century: “I had much rather lie Knabbing of Crusts ... in my Own Little Hole.”

15. CHUMBLE

Around since the early 1800s, chumble is one of many chewing words containing the consonant blend ch. An OED example from 1941 describes the worst nightmare of a clothing store owner: “I can hear the sound of moths chumbling the clothes in that chest.”

16. FLETCHERIZE

All these words have their charms, but none have the back story of fletcherize. A Victorian author named Horace Fletcher was called “The Great Masticator” for advocating a preposterous amount of chewing before swallowing. His chew-happy philosophy was called Fletcherism, and a 1904 use in The Daily Chronicle includes another variation: “The Fletcherites preach the gospel of chewing.” A use from Literary Digest in 1903 explains what must have been a novel term: “It is now proposed to speak of the ‘Fletcherizing’ of food that is thoroughly chewed.” And a use in O. Henry’s 1910 book Strictly Business shows how this term could be used figuratively: “Annette Fletcherized large numbers of romantic novels.” All hail Horace Fletcher: the patron saint of chewing.

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What Is a Crony?

Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain

By Mignon Fogarty, Quick and Dirty Tips

You know how words start to sound weird to you? Like you start doubting yourself and start thinking, “Is that even a word?” Well, I’ve been hearing the word crony a lot lately, and it started to sound weird to me; so out of curiosity, I looked it up and thought it had an especially interesting origin, so I want to share it with you.

What is the origin of the word crony?

According to Merriam-Webster, the root of the word crony is the Greek word chronos, which means “time.”

The same root gives us the words

  • Chronology: The order of things in time.
  • Chronic: Something that lasts a long time or is with you continuously like a chronic disease.
  • Synchronous: Happening at the same time.
  • Anachronism: Something that isn’t right for its time, like a cell phone in a movie that’s supposed to be set in the 1950s.

What does crony mean?

A crony is someone you’ve been friends with or have known for a long time, and it appears to have been a slang term used by British university students and alumni to describe their old chums.

Who first used the word crony?

The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is from the famous 17th-century diarist whom I’ve mentioned before, Samuel Pepys, who was a student at Cambridge. He referred to another man as “my old Schoolefellow … who was a great crony of mine.”

When did being a crony become a bad thing?

Today, crony often has a negative connotation, but all the examples in the OED use it in a good way, just to describe old friends. So I wanted to see when having cronies became a bad thing.

The negative meaning emerged in the United States in the early 1940s to describe the Truman administration.

According to the book Throw Them All Out by Peter Schweizer, in 1946 Arthur Krock wrote in The New York Times about President Truman’s connections to the Kansas City political machine, saying, “the Missouri flavor is strong around the White House itself ... and this has led to talk of government by crony.”

Another journalist, Walter Lippmann, used the word cronyism in The New York Times, again to describe the Truman administration, in 1952, bemoaning, “the amount of politically entrenched bureaucracy that has earned Mr. Truman’s regime its sorry reputation for corruption, cronyism, extravagance, waste, and confusion.” And you can really see the word cronyism take off in use after that date. It did also catch on in British English, but it seemed to take a few decades, starting to rise in the 1980s.

What is crony capitalism?

Also in the 1980s, people started talking about “crony capitalism," which is a form of corruption in which the government shows a lot of favoritism by determining which businesses get perks like tax breaks and permits. The magazine The Economist even created a crony capitalism index in 2014 to rank countries according to how much of this type of corruption they have. (Note: I can’t find any indication that The Economist published this index after 2016.)

How do people use the word crony?

To see more about how people use the word crony, I used a search engine called Netspeak that helps you find words that appear together, and it shows that one of the most common phrases is “old crony,” and that makes sense since often a crony is a buddy or friend from when you were in school or at least someone you’ve known for a long time.

And it also shows that the word is now common in the political realm because other common phrases are “Bush crony,” “Clinton crony,” and “political crony.” (I suspect this database doesn’t include text from the last decade or we’d see the names of other major politicians, too.)

In a further extension from corruption to outright criminal activity, you also occasionally see people use the word cronies to describe partners in crime or accomplices. For example, in 2019, there was an article in The Telegraph with the headline “My Brief but Terrifying Encounter With Pablo Escobar’s Cronies.”

Is crony related to crone?

Finally, the phrase “old crony” made me think of the phrase “old crone,” and I wondered whether crone has the same root since it refers to an old woman, but nope—it doesn’t.

The editors at the Oxford English Dictionary must have wondered the same thing because the etymology for crony actually says “no connection with crone has been traced.”

Instead, according to Etymonline, crone comes from the same root as carrion, which in Old French was also used to describe an old sheep.

Context matters when using the word crony

A crony was originally an old friend, but the word came to mean someone who gets favors because of whom they know instead of becoming successful on their own merits, and the change in meaning seems to be tied to criticism of United States president Harry Truman and his administration.

You can still use the word crony to simply describe an old friend, especially someone you hung out with a lot when you were young or in school. For example, you might say, “I’m not going home for Thanksgiving this year, and I am going to miss seeing all my old high school cronies.” But be sure the context makes your meaning clear since crony can also be used to describe people who don’t deserve their position or status.

A version of this article was originally published on Quick and Dirty Tips as "What Is a Crony?" Read more from Quick and Dirty Tips.

About the author

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.