10 Wonderful Old Words For Winter Ailments That We Need to Bring Back

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Winter has arrived, and you're likely washing your hands every five seconds to keep colds and the flu at bay. If the bad weather catches up with you though, here are 10 cold weather and winter ailment words you might find indispensable.

1. MELDROP

Derived from Scandinavian roots, originally a meldrop was a drop of foam from a horse’s mouth as it chomps on the bit—the metal crossbar held in a horse’s mouth, the Old Norse word for which was mel. According to the English Dialect Dictionary however, that original meaning gave way to a more figurative and more useful word in 16th century Scots: As well as being another word for a drip of water from the tip of an icicle, a meldrop is a pendulous droplet on the tip of a person’s nose.

2. SNIRL

Besides being a long-forgotten dialect word for the nose—or for the metal hoop pierced through a bull’s nostrils—snirl or snurl is an old 18th century dialect word for a stuffy head cold.

3. KIFFLE

To kiffle is to cough because you have a tickle in the throat. To hosk, meanwhile, is to cough harshly or painfully; to boke is to cough violently, according to the English Dialect Dictionary; and to wirken is to cough or choke, likely because you’re eating too quickly (a word worth remembering around the Christmas dinner table). A tissick, likewise, is a dry, tickling cough.

4. FOX’S COUGH

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), this is a hoarse, scratching cough that refuses to clear up, apparently so called because the fox’s call is so raucous and guttural. As far as different types of coughs go, however, probably the one to most stay clear of is a churchyard cough—a 17th century term for what the OED defines as “a bad cough, seemingly indicative of impending death.”

5. STERNUTAMENT

Sternutation is a 16th century medical word for the act of sneezing, which makes sternutament an equally ancient word for a single sneeze. As sneezing goes, the dictionary has quite a rich vocabulary to fall back on: chissup, atissha, and neazle are all long-forgotten and wonderfully onomatopoeic words for sneezes (with neazle predominately meaning to make the noise of a sneeze); the adjective ptarmic describes anything that makes you sneeze; and even the word sneeze itself is of interest, as it was originally spelled fnese before its initial F was misread as a long S in the 15th century.

6. AWVISH

Probably derived from a corruption of half or half-ish, if you’re awvish then you’re not exactly unwell, but you’re not feeling your best. A similar and equally evocative term from the 18th century was frobly-mobly, or fobly-mobly, which the lexicographer Francis Grose defined as meaning “indifferently well” in his Glossary of Provincial and Local Words in 1839.

7. PRESENTEEISM

The opposite of absenteeism is presenteeism—a term coined in the early 1930s for the act of turning up to work, despite being unwell.

8. HEADWARCH

Waerc was an Old English word for pain (which ironically derives from the same ancient root as work). That makes headwarch an equally ancient word for a headache, which only survived into recent decades in a handful of dialects from the northern counties of England. If you’re after something a bit more formal than that, however, there’s always cephalalgy, a word for a headache coined in the early 1600s; when things get really serious, there’s always galea—a Latin word for helmet—which according to one 1706 dictionary refers to a headache so-called "because it takes in the whole head."

9. KINK-HAUST

As a verb, kink can be used to mean "to cough convulsively," while a haust or hoast is a single cough or tickle in the throat. Put together, those words combine to form a dialect word, kink-haust, which according to a 19th century Vocabulary of East Anglia was once used to refer to a combined “violent cold and cough.”

10. ALYSM

And finally, if some or all of the above apply to you, it might be worth remembering this obscure term from psychology and psychiatry: The restless boredom or ennui that comes from being unwell or confined to your bed is called alysm.

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Why Did Noon Used to Mean 3 p.m.?

3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
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If you’re a late sleeper, you might find yourself thinking 12 p.m. seems way too early to be considered midday, and the word noon would much better describe, say, 3 p.m. It turns out that ancient Romans would have agreed with you, if only for etymological reasons.

As Reader’s Digest explains, the days in ancient Rome were split into four periods of three hours each. The first hour was at sunrise around 6 a.m.—called prime, for first—followed by 9 a.m. (terce, denoting the third hour), 12 p.m. (sext, for sixth), and 3 p.m. (none, for ninth).

According to Merriam-Webster, Middle and Old English borrowed the time-keeping tradition, along with the Latin word for ninth, which was changed to nōn and eventually noon. Though we’re not sure exactly when or why noon started referring to 12 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., it could have something to do with Christian prayer traditions. In the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion is said to have taken place at the ninth hour, and that’s when worshippers partook in their second of three daily prayers; the others were in the morning and evening. It’s possible that hungry monks were behind noon’s gradual shift from 3 p.m. to 12 p.m.—since their daily fast didn’t end until after the midday prayer, they had a built-in motive for moving it earlier.

While we didn’t exactly stay true to the original Latin meaning of noon, there’s another important remnant of ancient Rome hiding in the way we tell time today. Romans referred to 12 p.m. as meridiem, for midday, and so do we. A.M. is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, or before midday, and P.M. means post meridiem, or after midday.

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