30 Old (and Useful) Slang Names for Parts of the Body

iStock.com/asiseeit
iStock.com/asiseeit

People have been using belly button to mean “navel” since the late 1800s. Your nose has been your schnozz since the 1940s, and your hooter since the '50s. Booty has been dated back as far as the 1920s. Guys have been comparing their guns since 1973, and their pecs since 1949. But slang names for parts of the body don’t end there. Slang and colloquial dictionaries dating back hundreds of years—including Francis Grose’s brilliant Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1788)—are littered with dozens of odd and inventive anatomical alternatives for everything from a greasy cowlick to the littlest of little toes, 30 examples of which are listed here.

1. Aggravator

In 19th century slang, aggravators—or haggerawators as Charles Dickens called them—were lose locks of hair hanging over the forehead, like a kiss-curl or cowlick. At the time, it was fashionable for young men to grease aggravators down so that they lay flat against the skin.

2. Bowsprit

A bowsprit is a long pole or bar that extends out from the prow of a boat, to which various sails and stays are tied. As the most prominent part of the main structure of the boat, however, bowsprit became a slang word for the nose in the mid-1700s.

3. Brainpan

Your brainpan or braincase is your skull. Still used today in some dialects of English, brainpan is by far the oldest word on this list; it comes from Old English.

4. Candle-mine

Back when candles were made out of tallow (rendered beef grease) rather than wax, a person’s candle-mine was their own personal storehouse of fat—or, in other words, their belly.

5. Cat-sticks

In 18th century slang, cat-sticks or trap-sticks were a skinny man’s long, bony legs. The term comes from the sticks used to play tip-cat, an old game in which players would hit a short wooden bar called a tip into the air with a long tapering pole known as a cat-stick. The tip would be bounced up and then batted as far as possible, with the player who propelled their tip the farthest being the winner.

6. Clapper

Clapper has been used as a slang name for the tongue since the 17th century, in the sense that a talkative person’s tongue constantly moves back and forth like the clapper inside a bell.

7. Commandments

In Tudor English, your ten commandments were your 10 fingernails. Shakespeare alludes to it in Henry VI, Part 2: “Could I come near your beauty with my nails, I could set my ten commandments on your face.”

8. Corporal

According to 18th century slang, your thumb is your corporal, and your other four fingers are the privates.

9. Daddles

Your daddles are your hands, although no one knows precisely why. The most likely theory is that this comes from dadder, an 18th century word meaning to stagger or walk unsteadily, in which case it probably first referred to a nervous person’s shaking hands.

10. Dew-Beater

Dew-beaters is 19th century slang for your feet, alluding to someone knocking the dew off the grass as they walk. The word was also once used to mean a pioneer or an early riser—namely someone who arrived before or started their day before anyone else.

11. Famble

Famble is an old 14th century word meaning to stammer or stumble your words, and probably through confusion with fumble it came to be used as another name for a hand in Tudor slang. A fambler, incidentally, is a crook who sells counterfeit rings.

12. Grabbing Irons

In 18th century naval slang, your grabbers were your hands and your grabbing or grabbling irons were your fingers.

13. Hause-Pipe

Hause is an old Scots word for a narrow valley or a passage between two hills or mountains, and it eventually came to be used metaphorically for the throat or gullet. Your hause-pipe, ultimately, is your windpipe.

14. Keeker

Keek is another old Scots word, meaning a quick glimpse or glance, especially of something you really shouldn’t be looking at. Hence a keeker is both an old word for an eyeball, and another name for an ogler or a peeping tom.

15. Maconochie

Maconochie Brothers, founded first as a fishmongers by James Maconochie in 1870, was a food cannery based in London’s East End that supplied millions of tons of canned food rations to troops serving in the First World War. As a result, the name Maconochie eventually came to be used as another name for the stomach in military slang.

16. Maypole

For reasons too obvious to go into here, maypole was a 17th century name for a penis, along with dozens of others: needle, rubigo, virge, tarse, runnion and—probably most euphemistically of all—the other thing.

17. Peerie-Winkie

Peerie is an old Scottish word meaning small or tiny; your peerie-winkie is your little finger or toe.

18. Phiz

Phiz is short for fizzog or physog, all three of which are 18th century abbreviations of physiognomy, a term for a person’s facial features or appearance.

19. Prat

Prat is a 16th century name for a buttock or the side of the hip. It’s the same prat as in pratfall, incidentally (which was originally a theatrical name for a fall backwards onto your rear), while a prat-frisker or prat-digger was a pickpocket particularly skilled at stealing from people’s back pockets.

20. Prayer-Bones

Because of the long tradition of kneeling to pray, your prayer-bones have been your kneecaps since the mid-19th century at least.

21. Pudding-House

It’s where your pudding ends up, so unsurprisingly, your pudding-house is your stomach. It’s likely this was also used more generally to refer to the abdomen or trunk of the body, however, as since the late-1800s pregnant women have been said to be “in the pudding club” in British slang.

22. Rattletrap

Trap has been used as a slang name for the mouth since at least the 18th century, and rattletrap is just one variation of this theme, alongside dozens of others like potato-trap, kissing-trap, jaw-trap, gingerbread-trap, and gin-trap.

23. Salt-Cellar

In 19th century slang, the small round hollow between the collarbones at the base of the neck—and in particular a young woman’s neck—was nicknamed the salt-cellar, a reference to the small bowls or basins of salt used in kitchens. (That hollow’s proper anatomical name, incidentally, is the suprasternal notch.)

24. Spectacles-Seat

Because it’s where your spectacles rest, the bridge of your nose was your spectacles-seat in Victorian slang.

25. Three-Quarters

Three-quarters was criminals’ rhyming slang for your neck in the late 18th century, derived from “three-quarters of a peck,” an old measure of volume.

26. Trillibubs

Trillibubs (or trolly-bags as they also became known) are guts or intestines. The term was originally used by butchers, usually in the full phrase tripes and trillibubs, in the early 16th century, but by the mid-1700s it had come to be used as a slang name for a person’s guts, or for a bloated stomach.

27. Twopenny

Twopenny is short for twopenny loaf, which is in turn derived from loaf of bread—rhyming slang for “head” since the early 1800s at least.

28. Underpinnings

Underpinnings are literally the materials and supports used to support a structure, like the foundations of a building. Based on that, in the early 19th century the term came to be used as a slang name for your legs.

29. Victualling Office

The victualling office was the naval department responsible for allocating and dispensing food and other supplies to the crew of a ship ahead of a voyage. It came to be a slang name for the stomach or abdomen in the mid-1700s.

30. Welsh Comb

Your Welsh comb is your thumb and four fingers. According to the relatively more cosmopolitan Londoners who invented the term in the 18th century, that’s precisely what a supposedly less sophisticated Welshman would once have used to comb his hair.

This post first ran in 2014.

50 Collective Nouns for Groups of Animals

WLDavies/iStock
WLDavies/iStock

You know which animals move in packs, schools, and herds, but what about a wake, a business, or a flamboyance?

1. A CACKLE OF HYENAS

A group of hyenas on a rock.
JRLPhotographer/iStock

While clan is the much more accepted term, there's something very appropriate about cackle. And though their laughs and giggles sound entertaining, they're really how spotted hyenas express anger, frustration, and warnings to stay away.

2. A SHREWDNESS OF APES

Group of chimps in a tree.
guenterguni/iStock

This term has around since the late 1400s—at the time, shrewdness referred to the mischievous nature of apes, though knowing now how intelligent they are, the term still works.

3. A RAFT OF OTTERS

Otters floating in the water in a large group.
Dougall_Photography/iStock

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, many aquatic animals, such as ducks or puffins, also form rafts.

4. A MURDER OF CROWS

Silhouette of crows at night.
Renphoto/iStock

In the 15th century, crows were considered to be omens of death and messengers from the devil or evil powers.

5. A SCURRY OF SQUIRRELS

Squirrels lined up on a log.
Jef Wodniack/iStock

Scurries are fairly unusual since squirrels are not pack animals by nature, so the more commonly used dray refers to a nest consisting of a mother squirrel and her young.

6. A WAKE OF VULTURES

Buzzards and vultures coming over to a carcass.
Steve Allen Photo/iStock

For vultures, a wake specifically refers to a group feeding on a carcass. The less morbid terms kettle and committee are reserved for groups that are flying and resting in trees, respectively.

7. A BATTERY OF BARRACUDAS

A battery of barracuda swimming.
armiblue/iStock

Just one barracuda is intimidating, but a battery of them? Time to retreat!

8. A MUSTER OF STORKS

A muster of storks in a flower field.
Javier Conejero/iStock

A muster can also be used for groups of peacocks/peafowl (though an ostentation of peacocks is much more illustrative).

9. A WALK OF SNAILS

Group of snails.
Grotmarsel/iStock

Considering walk is one of the things a snail cannot do, this seems like an unusual choice. Perhaps the lesser-known (but still accepted) escargatoire would be more accurate.

10. A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS

A group of owls on a branch.
tariq sulemani/iStock

It's unclear when this phrase was invented, with examples dating to the late 19th century. But its origin is likely an allusion to Chaucer's poem "The Parliament of Fowls," alongside the use of parliament as a collective noun for rooks.

11. AN AMBUSH OF TIGERS

Three Bengal tigers walking along a path.
guenterguni/iStock

Since tigers tend to be solitary creatures, a grouping of them would certainly feel like an ambush.

12. A COTERIE OF PRAIRIE DOGS

Prairie dogs standing on a mound.
HenkBentlage/iStock

While full towns of prairie dogs are called colonies, the close-knit, individual family units are called coteries.

13. A MUTATION OF THRUSH

Thrush birds in a nest.
Stephen Barnes/iStock

An ancient and medieval belief that thrushes shed and regrew their legs each decade led to the collective term of a mutation of thrush.

14. A MEMORY OF ELEPHANTS

A herd of elephants with a couple of babies in front.
johan63/iStock

Sure, a herd of elephants is the more common collective, but a memory is also a recognized term. We're not sure why a pack of pachyderms didn't catch on though …

15. A SKULK OF FOXES

Four little red foxes in a grassy field.
taviphoto/iStock

This term likely came about because mother foxes raise their young while burrowed underground.

16. A SCOLD OF JAYS

Jays sitting on a ledge.
SHSPhotography/iStock

Jays also hang in bands and parties.

17. A COVEY OF QUAIL

Quail in the grass.
SteveByland/iStock

While they can also group as a flock or a bevy, a covey of quail sounds much more poetic.

18. A HOVER OF TROUT

Trout in the water.
emmgunn/iStock

Since trout tend to swim in groups near the bottom of a lake or river, they likely look like they're hovering over the bed of the waterway. Alternately, it may come from an old term for an overhanging rock where fish—like trout—can hide.

19. A BALE OF TURTLES

Group of turtles in the water.
dinozaver/iStock

Supposedly, a group of turtles who are cozy in their shells would look like a field of round or squarish hay bales.

20. A RHUMBA OF RATTLESNAKES

Couple of rattlesnakes.
User10095428_393/iStock

Because, perhaps under circumstances that didn't involve a large number of snakes, that many rattles in one place would make you want to dance.

21. A CHARM OF HUMMINGBIRDS

Hummingbirds flitting around a feeder.
Missing35mm/iStock

If just one hummingbird is charming, can you imagine how charming a whole group of them would be?

22. A BUSINESS OF FERRETS

A basket of ferrets.
JuergenBosse/iStock

The Book of Saint Albans gave ferrets the collective term busyness ("besynes"), which today has become "business."

23. A STUBBORNNESS OF RHINOCEROSES

Rhinoceroses drinking water.
CornelisNienaber_/iStock

They can collectively be called a crash of rhinos as well.

24. A PRICKLE OF PORCUPINES

Porcupines eating some food.
photomaru/iStock

Could this term be any more apt?

25. AN IMPLAUSIBILITY OF GNUS

Gnus and wildebeests jumping into the water.
ANDREYGUDKOV/iStock

Who knew?

26. AN UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS

Silhouette of ravens in a tree.
MRaust/iStock

Ravens aren't exactly friendly fowl. They will often gang up on their prey or animals that enter their space. And because of the impression that they are an ominous presence, an unkindness of ravens can also be called a conspiracy.

27. A HAREM OF SEALS

A large group of seals.
evenfh/iStock

Specifically, when you have a group of females with a dominant male, it's a harem. If it's just some breeding seals hanging out, it's a rookery.

28. A MOB OF KANGAROOS

Kangaroos in a field.
leelakajonkij/iStock

And just like in human mobs, there's usually a leader (a "boomer," or adult male) who is only in power for a short while before being challenged and defeated by a rival boomer.

29. A GAM OF WHALES

Group of whales swimming in the ocean.
solarseven/iStock

Gam is a possible derivative of the word "gammon," meaning talk intended to deceive. Considering scientists have only just recently begun thinking they could decipher whale calls, we'd say the gam's gammon is pretty effective.

30. A POD OF PELICANS

Pelicans swimming on the water.
hartmanc10/iStock

They can also be called a squadron.

31. A GENERATION OF VIPERS

Two vipers hiding in the leaves.
Mark Kostich/iStock

A group of snakes is generally a pit, nest, or den, but they're generally thought of as solitary creatures, so collective nouns for specific types of snakes are more fanciful. A "generation of vipers" likely originates from the King James translation of the Bible, in which Matthew 23:33 reads "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"

32. A DESCENT OF WOODPECKERS

Three woodpeckers in a tree.
RT-Images/iStock

Woodpeckers are far more known for their wood-pecking style of foraging for food, but another method some have is to quickly dive-bomb anthills and termite mounds.

33. A RUN OF SALMON

Salmon swimming upstream.
sekarb/iStock

A salmon run isn't just the mass migration of salmon up the river—a run of salmon is also the name of a grouping of the fish.

34. A KALEIDOSCOPE OF BUTTERFLIES

One blue butterfly with a lot of orange butterflies.
borchee/iStock

Groups of butterflies can also be called flutters.

35. A WISDOM OF WOMBATS

Couple of wombats in a field.
yellowsarah/iStock

Wombats have large brains and are incredibly playful, which is often viewed as a sign of intelligence.

36. A ROUT OF WOLVES

Large pack of wolves.
Cloudtail_the_Snow_Leopard/iStock

While pack is definitely the better-known term today, a very old term for wolves is rout, a word that ultimately came from the Middle French for company.

37. A SHIVER OF SHARKS

Group of hammerhead sharks in the ocean.
Janos/iStock

The term shiver applies a bit more to nervous humans when they see a large group of sharks, which is perhaps why the term has caught on in recent years.

38. A SCOURGE OF MOSQUITOES

Mosquitos flying against a yellow light.
Nataba/iStock

They're more commonly called a swarm, but a scourge sounds just as accurate.

39. A SLEUTH OF BEARS

Four bears climbing a tree.
Chilkoot/iStock

This isn't a reference to any detective work bears may or may not do—it's derived from the Old English word for sloth, meaning slow (and sloth itself is sometimes used as a collective noun as well). 

40. A GAZE OF RACCOONS

Three raccoons in a tree hole.
stanley45/iStock

The males are called boars and the females sows.

41. A SIEGE OF HERONS

Herons standing in a field.
joesayhello/iStock

When herons pick a new lake or river to rest at, the fish there would certainly feel under siege.

42. A FLAMBOYANCE OF FLAMINGOS

Flamingos flying and standing in the water.
mantaphoto/iStock

Kudos to the creator of this perfect term.

43. A DESTRUCTION OF CATS

Black and white cats hanging out along a street.
lilagri/iStock

A destruction refers specifically to a group of wild or feral cats. A group of domesticated cats is a clowder.

44. A FEVER OF STINGRAYS

Stingrays swimming under the water.
EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/iStock

At the very least, swimming with a fever of stingrays would surely cause your blood pressure to rise.

45. A SKEIN OF GEESE

Geese looking at the camera.
Melbye/iStock

A skein is used specifically when geese (or other wild birds) are flying, while the alliterative gaggle is the term for grounded or domestic geese.

46. A BUNCH OF WORMS

Pile of worms in the dirt.
Ben185/iStock

Not terribly creative, but when in doubt, just say "a bunch" of whatever.

47. AN EXALTATION OF LARKS

Larks flying across a field.
Supercaliphotolistic/iStock

An exaltation of larks also dates back to the 15th century Book of Saint Albans (which, because of its heraldry section, also happened to be the first book in England to be printed in color).

48. A FAMILY OF SARDINES

Sardines swimming in a large group.
Donyanedomam/iStock

There are more than a dozen fish who can be labeled "sardine" in the supermarket. So in this case, family means a large grouping, rather than parents and children.

49. A BARREL OF MONKEYS

A group of monkeys gathering around a banana.
Gilitukha/iStock

Not just a game—it's a real term. Monkeys can also congregate as a carload, troop, or tribe.

50. A DAZZLE OF ZEBRAS

Zebras grazing in a field.
Photoservice/iStock

They're more commonly called a herd, but a zeal or dazzle of zebras has such a nice ring to it.

How Coronavirus and 31 Other Infectious Diseases and Viruses Got Their Names

Rotavirus—from the Latin rota, for "wheel"—is named for the wheel-like appearance of its particles.
Rotavirus—from the Latin rota, for "wheel"—is named for the wheel-like appearance of its particles.
Dr_Microbe/iStock via Getty Images

As you may already know, the corona in coronavirus has no relation to a certain refreshing beer often served with a slice of lime. Corōna means “crown” in Latin—and Spanish and Italian, too—and virologists chose it in 1968 to describe the group of viruses characterized by crown-like spikes that protrude from their surfaces.

So how do other viruses and diseases get their names? Based on the infographic below, created by Adam Aleksic for his website, The Etymology Nerd, there isn’t just one way. Some, like the coronavirus, are named for how they look under a microscope. The rota in rotavirus, for example, which means “wheel” in Latin, reflects the virus’s wheel-like appearance when viewed beneath an electron microscope.

Others are named after the locations where they were discovered or studied. In 1947, scientists named a newly identified mosquito-borne virus after Uganda’s Zika Forest. In 1977, Yale researchers investigating a string of pediatric arthritis cases in the town of Lyme, Connecticut, started referring to the illness as “Lyme arthritis.” Later, the name was modified to “Lyme disease” when scientists realized patients were exhibiting other symptoms, too.

Still others are characterized by the symptoms they cause. People with tetanus—from the Greek tetanos, for “tension”—usually experience muscle stiffness, and the skin of yellow fever sufferers often takes on a yellow tint due to jaundice.

Find out the origins of malaria, measles, and more below. And follow The Etymology Nerd on Instagram for more fascinating etymological explanations.

etymology nerd infectious disease names infographic
Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of Latin in this infographic.

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