47 More Words That Sound Rude (But Actually Aren’t)
Last year, we posted this list of words—from aholehole to wankapin—that sound, well, a lot more suspect than their fairly mundane meanings might suggest. (An aholehole is a Hawaiian flagtail fish, by the way, and a wankapin is a Central American lotus plant.) That list, however, was just the tip of the suspect-sounding iceberg: Here are 47 more entirely genuine English words that sound rude, but really aren’t. Honest.
An old Scots word for a sore and inflamed spot or zit, or a pockmark—or as the Dictionary of the Scots Language defines it, “a hot pimple.”
Listed in Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language as another name for the plant dyer’s-weed, Reseda luteola.
Another word for a bumboat—a vessel used to transport provisions to a larger ship.
A term used in archery, referring to “a target arrow without a barb.”
A 17th century word for a fishwife—butt, in this case, is derived from “turbot.”
An English corruption of caucauasu, an Algonquin word for a wiseman or elder, cockarouse was used by early American colonists for someone who held a position of responsibility or consequence.
In a flour mill, the cock-head is apparently the upper part of the spindle around which the topmost millstone sits.
A juvenile Australian snapper fish.
A 17th century word for any item of clothing worn to hide a dirty or untidy garment underneath.
A local name for the Mississippi sunfish, Pomoxis annularis.
An old Scots word for poor-quality curds—not good enough to be used to make cheese—that are instead served just as they are, with a pinch of salt.
Watch how you pronounce this one—it’s just another word meaning “all-powerful.”
An 18th century word for an earthenware vase filled with hot coals and used as a foot-warmer.
An early 19th century dialect nickname for Colaptes auratus, a bird of the woodpecker family.
A 19th century word for any bird—and in particular the kingfisher—that nests in holes in riverbanks or cliff tops.
The thickest part of a horse’s hide (or the hide of any similar animal) that’s used to make the toughest, thickest leather.
A con artist or small-time crook.
A type of “trading vessel in the Philippine islands,” according to the OED.
A smaller-than-normal poop deck on board a ship.
Think again—that’s pronounced “pen isle,” in case you’re wondering, and it’s a 17th century word for a peninsula.
Named for the Indian city of Pune, poonalite or poonahlite is another name for the quartz-like mineral scolecite.
Definitely not what it sounds: this is an old 19th century nautical slang word for an apprentice sailor.
An old Scots word for a male turkey.
Prick is an old word for an archery target or bulls-eye, and a shaft is simply an arrow. Put together, a prickshaft is an arrow used specifically in target practice, or else refers to the arrow that falls most closely to the target in a game of archery. Dates back to Tudor England.
Old 1920s criminal slang for stealing fur coats and stoles.
An old-fashioned (and thankfully long-forgotten) word meaning to reverberate or to resound. A rimbombo is a deep rumble of thunder.
A very unfortunate Scots corruption of the French word escarpines—a pair of thin-soled shoes or slippers.
An old dialect word for the waste material from a slate quarry, or for blocks of substandard quality slate.
The little-used etymological cousin of words like bifarious and trifarious, sexfarious simply means “comprising six parts.”
A mathematical adjective defined by the OED as “relating to or involving a point of contact of the sixth degree.”
An old nautical term for the passageway on a ship leading from the engine room to the stern, which houses the shafts of the propellers. Because it was so secluded, crewmembers would often meet to gossip there—so shaft-alley eventually came to be used as a byword for gossipy, unreliable information too.
Simply defined as a “term of abuse” by the OED, with just one recorded use dating back to 1642.
Shittle is an old 15th century word meaning “fickle” or “inconsistent” (and is probably related to skittish). If you’re shittle-witted or shittle-brained, ultimately, you’re hot-headed and changeable.
A Victorian English word for a bin or garbage heap, or a receptacle for rubbish.
Nineteenth century American slang for the water that collects in hollows of tree stumps, spunk-water was once believed to be a cure for warts; Mark Twain mentions it in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
An old English dialect word for the mistle thrush, a European songbird whose song was supposed to forecast a storm or downpour of rain.
Any one of a number of medium-sized songbirds native to India and southeast Asia, including the pin-striped and the fluffy-backed tit-babblers.
An old 18th century Scots word for the latest news …
… and an old 18th century Yorkshire word for a small quantity of something left over after all the rest has been used.
Describing anything resembling a thrush (or a stormcock, for that matter).
A 17th century word for twilight.
A Scots dialect word for a meeting between two people, or a tête-a-tête.
A term from the botanical study of mosses, essentially referring to the base of the tip of a single “blade” of a mossy plant.
While Wankel (spelled with an –el and an upper-case W) is the name of a type of engine, wankle (with an –le and a lower-case w) is an old word meaning “unsteady,” or “in weak health.”
An 18th century Scots word for a child that has not been properly suckled.
An old nickname for the kestrel, referring to its ability to hover in one spot.
An old word from Cornwall meaning “dizzy” or “in a spin.” Willy-wurly-way is an old English name for a game of tag.