Just as the letter J is derived from I and the letter U is derived from V, G actually began life around 2300 years ago as a variant of the letter C. Before then, C had been used in Latin to represent both the hard “g” sound and, alongside letter K, the softer “k” sound. But as K steadily fell out of popularity among Roman scholars, C ended up being used in so many different contexts that it soon became necessary to differentiate between them—and so the new letter G, championed by a former Roman slave-turned-educator named Spurius Carvilius Ruga, took over the “g” sound and has remained in use ever since.
Today, you can expect G to account for just under 2 percent of any page of written English, and roughly the same proportion of words in a dictionary—including grandiloquence, the use of haughty, extravagant language.
The old-fashioned exclamation Gadzooks! dates back to the early 1600s, but remained in popular use through to the late Victorian era. It’s an example of what’s known as a “minced oath,” a linguistic phenomenon in which a potentially offensive or blasphemous expression is transformed into a weaker, less offensive one. In this case, the exclamation “God’s hooks!”—a sacrilegious reference to the nails used to secure Jesus to the cross—morphed into Gadzooks!, Zookers!, Zoodikers!, and all manner of other much less offensive forms. In turn, Gadzooks itself is the origin of gadzookery, a term coined in 1955 to refer to the deliberate use of old fashioned language.
A 17th century word for someone who drinks milk.
As a verb, the old Scots word gandiveese can be used to mean “to stare bemusedly.” As a noun, it’s a name for a fictitious illness invented as a reason to get out of doing something.
An 18th century word for a wine bottle. It literally means “wine-keeper.”
An old slang nickname for a thin, scrawny-looking man.
Just as you can be a laughing-stock, you can also be a gazing-stock—namely, someone who’s being gazed at by a group of people. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, you can also be a gaping-stock, a mocking-stock, a scorning-stock, and a pointing-stock.
The fear of crossing bridges. Other G-fears include gynophobia (fear of women), gamophobia (fear of marriage), and gymnophobia (fear of nudity).
Apparently derived from a London printer named George Horne who had a habit of retelling old news, G.H.! is an old English slang exclamation used as a reply to someone who has just told you something you already knew.
A random assortment of unmatching things.
To make something smooth or plain is to glabreate it …
… while glabreity or glabrity is a more formal name for baldness.
A 17th century slang word meaning “extremely angry.”
To stare at something vacantly.
The spike on a sundial? That’s a gnomon.
Any hole for peering through is a gokey.
An old English dialect word for someone who lazes or idles around, staring vacantly at something. It originally specifically referred to people who like to watch the coming and going of boats on a canal.
A Gothamist or Gothamite is literally someone who lives in Gotham—but probably not the Gotham City you’re thinking of. Long before it became another name for New York City (and, before that, Newcastle upon Tyne), Gotham was used as far back as the 16th century as a byword for any isolated backwater town or village whose population was seen as rough or unsophisticated; essentially, it was a Tudor English equivalent of what we might call “Nowheresville” or “Hicksville” today. Whether in this context Gotham derives from a genuine place or not is debatable, but nevertheless it and its inhabitants were once the subject of a number of old English folktales and folk songs about proverbially foolish country bumpkin-type characters going about doing predictably stupid things—one such song involved three men from Gotham who went to sea in a sieve, while another was about a merchant from Gotham who carried a huge sack of grain on his back while riding his horse so that the horse didn’t have to carry the excess weight. As a result, thanks to stories like these, a Gothamist is essentially a fool or simpleton, or else someone who goes about something in a misinformed, ludicrous way.
Anything covered in grass is graminous.
Gravid, derived from a Latin word meaning “heavy” or “burdened,” is a more formal word for being pregnant, and so to gravidate is to make or become pregnant. If you’re gravigrade, incidentally, you’re heavy-footed, while graviloquence is heavy, sombre speech.
An 18th century word for a toadyish, sycophantic person.
A 16th century word for someone who always appears to be grinning.
Noticeably wide or loose stitches done in haste (or by someone who isn’t good at sewing) are grinning-stitches.
Derived from an old Scandinavian word, grooflins means lying face down. Grufeling, derived from the same root, is an old Scots word meaning “closely wrapped up” or “comfortable-looking.”
“This, you must know, is the growlery. When I am out of humour, I come and growl here.” Coined by Charles Dickens in Bleak House, growlery is a word for anywhere you like to retreat to when you’re unwell or in a bad mood.
To crease or crumple something is to gruggle it.
To gubernate is to govern, and so a gubernator is a governor while a gubernatrix is a governess.
A puzzle or riddle.
Early 19th century slang for the dust and lint that accumulates in your pockets.
An old Scots dialect word for an artificial flower, followed by …
… an old Scots word for an act of premeditated revenge.
What’s a guttering-peg? Truthfully, it doesn’t matter. Long before practical jokers were sending unsuspecting people on snipe hunts or to go and fetch left-handed screwdrivers, gullible workman were being sent for guttering-pegs—a 17th century fool’s errand.
An 18th century word for the numbness or tingling felt in the fingers when they’re cold.
An old English dialect word for a small bruise or blood blister caused by a nip or pinch.
A government ruled by women.
A version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2022.