15 Obscure Words Every Pet Owner Needs in Their Vocabulary

iStock.com/vvvita
iStock.com/vvvita

As a nickname for a cat, the word mog or moggy is thought to come from Maggie, a name that was once used more generally in the language as a nickname for any young woman or girl. As a nickname for a dog—and in particular a shabby-looking one—the word mutt dates back to the late 19th century. But oddly, it originally referred to a slow or poor-quality racehorse, not to a dog, and derives from muttonhead, an even older word for a fool or simpleton. But if you’re a dog or cat owner, those aren’t the only words worthy of a place in your vocabulary …

1. CLIMB-TACK

As well as being another word for a mischievous child, if you have a cat that likes to investigate the shelves where you store your food, it's a climb-tack.

2. CUMLIN

The word comeling has been used since the 13th century to refer to someone who visits or enters somewhere or joins a new group of people as opposed to one of its regular or permanent residents or members. Derived from that, cumlin is an old word for an animal—and in particular a cat—that spontaneously attaches itself to a new owner.

3. CUTTYCRUMB

An old Scots word for the sound of a purring cat, often used in the expression “to sing cuttycrumb.”

4. GRANONS

A 17th century word for a cat’s whiskers, granons ultimately derives from an old Germanic word probably meaning “mustache.”

5. HAINGLE

Haingle is a Scots word derived from hang, in the sense of feeling unwell or tired. As a verb, haingle can be used to mean to move languidly or feebly, or to look tired or jaded. And from there, it came to be used as a nickname for a greedy or lazy dog in the early 19th century.

6. HUNDGIE

Hundge is an old Scots word meaning “to drive or chase away,” which comes from an earlier verb hund, meaning “to chase like a hound,” or “to run from place to place.” A diminutive form, hundgie—literally “a little chaser”—was once a nickname for an energetic dog.

7. KREESAL

When a dog or a cat curls up in a ball to sleep, you can call that “in a kreesal,” an old Scots expression derived from an earlier word, kreeso, for an untidy bundle of clothes or anything else.

8. PUGNOZZLE

The playwright Samuel Beckett coined the word pugnozzle in 1934 to mean, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “to move [the upper lip and nostrils] up and down in the manner of a pug dog.”

9. RUM BUFFER

From the mid-16th to the early 19th century, the word rum was used in English slang to designate particularly beautiful or excellent things. In that sense, it has nothing to do with drink and, according to one explanation at least, derived from the place name Rome and was meant to allude to the city’s fine architecture. So a rum cove was a handsome or rich gentleman, while a rum doxy was a beautiful woman. A rum beak was a fair judge or magistrate known among criminals for his lenient sentences. And a rum buffer was a particularly fine or handsome dog.

10. SNAPE

Thought to be derived either from snip or snipe, the word snape has a number of different snappy and snatching meanings in English, including “skimp on food,” “to snuff out a candle,” and “to pinch” or “deceive.” As a verb, it can also be used to mean “to call off a dog.”

11. SNOWK

As well as being another word for a noisy intake of breath, according to the English Dialect Dictionary, to snowk something is to smell it like a dog—that is, by poking or pushing your nose into it.

12. SPITFIRE

As an adjective, spitfire has been used to mean “hot-tempered” or “irascible” since the early 1600s, and in that sense was given to a type of single-seater aircraft that gained fame during the Second World War. But in the early 1800s, the word was applied to an enraged or irritable cat, and remained in use through to the turn of the century.

13. TRUNDLE-TAIL

Dating back as far as the 15th century, trundle-tail is an obsolete nickname for a dog with a fluffy, curly tail; Shakespeare used it in King Lear.

14. VIRE-SPANNEL

A vire-spannel—literally a “fire spaniel”—is a dog that likes to sit idly by the fire. The cat equivalent is a fire-scordel.

15. WHIFFET

Whiffet is a 19th-century American word for a small dog. It’s thought to be derived from whiff, in the sense of a light gust of wind, and is perhaps modeled on whippet.

A version of this list was first published in 2016.

10 Old English Words You Need to Be Using

The Anglo-Saxon poem 'Beowulf' written in Old English
The Anglo-Saxon poem 'Beowulf' written in Old English
The 'Southwick Codex' (including Old English adaptations of Augustine of Hippo, Soliloquia, the Gospel of Nicodemus, the Prose Dialogues of Saturn and Solomon, homily on St Quintin); 'the Nowell Codex' (including a homily on St Christopher, Marvels of the East; Beowulf and Judith), British Library // Public Domain

If you learn just 10 Old English words today, let them be these from Mark Forsyth's The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language.

1. Uhtceare

“There is a single Old English word meaning ‘lying awake before dawn and worrying.’ Uhtceare is not a well-known word even by Old English standards, which were pretty damn low. In fact, there is only one recorded instance of it actually being used."

2. Expergefactor

"An expergefactor is anything that wakes you up. This may simply be your alarm clock, in which case it is time to hit the snooze button. But it may be a dustman or a milkman or a delivery van, in which case it is time to lean out of your window and shriek: 'Damn you all, you expergefactors!' This ought to keep them quiet until one of them has at least found a good dictionary."

3. and 4. Pantofle and Staddle

“Once your toes are snugly pantofled, you can stagger off to the bathroom, pausing only to look at the little depression that you have left in your bed, the dip where you have been lying all night. This is known as a staddle.”

5. Grubbling

"It’s time to check whether you’ve got your keys and your phone and your purse or wallet. This is done by grubbling in your pockets. Grubbling is like groping, except less organized. It is a verb that usually refers to pockets, but can also be used for feeling around in desk drawers that are filled with knick-knacks and whatnot."

6. Mugwump

Mugwump is a derogatory word for somebody in charge who affects to be above petty squabbles and factions. So when your boss tries to make peace at the meeting table like an impartial angel, he is being a mugwump.” (The Mugwumps were also a group of rebellious Republicans who broke with their party to support the Democratic candidate in the 1884 U.S. presidential election. —Ed.)

7. Rawgabbit

"A rawgabbit, just in case you were wondering, is somebody who speaks in strictest confidence about a subject of which they know nothing. A rawgabbit is the person who pulls you aside and reveals in a careful whisper that the head of compliance is having an affair with the new recruit in IT, which you know to be utterly untrue because the head of compliance is having an affair with you, and the new recruit in IT hasn’t started yet."

8. Vinomadefied

“Once you are properly vinomadefied, all sorts of intriguing things start to happen. Vinomadefied, by the way, does not mean ‘made mad by wine,’ but merely ‘dampened by it.’”

9. Lanspresado

"A lanspresado is (according to a 1736 dictionary of thieves’ slang) 'He that comes into company with but two-pence in his pocket.' Lanspresados are everywhere. They have usually forgotten their wallets or can’t find [an ATM] or some intensely complicated thing has happened with their rent, which means that they’re skint until Thursday."

10. Vomitorium

“A vomitorium is not a room in which ancient Romans would throw up halfway through a banquet in order to make room for the next course. That’s a myth. A vomitorium is simply a passage by which you can exit a building, usually a theater.”

A version of this story originally appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

Pandemic vs. Epidemic: What’s the Difference?

If scientists can't develop a vaccine for a new virus quickly enough, an epidemic can turn into a pandemic.
If scientists can't develop a vaccine for a new virus quickly enough, an epidemic can turn into a pandemic.
doble-d/iStock via Getty Images

As the new coronavirus continues to spread around the world, the words epidemic and pandemic are showing up in news reports more often than they usually do. While the terms are closely related, they don’t refer to the same thing.

As the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) explains on its website, “an epidemic occurs when an infectious disease spreads rapidly to many people.” Usually, what precedes an epidemic is an outbreak, or “a sudden rise in the number of cases of a disease.” An outbreak can affect a single community or several countries, but it’s on a much smaller scale than an epidemic.

If an epidemic can’t be contained and keeps expanding its reach, public health officials might start calling it a pandemic, which means it’s affected enough people in different areas of the world to be considered a global outbreak. In short, a pandemic is a worldwide epidemic. It infects more people, causes more deaths, and can also have widespread social and economic repercussions. The spread of the Spanish influenza from 1918 to 1919, which killed between 20 and 40 million people around the world, was a pandemic; more recently, the H1N1 influenza created a pandemic in 2009.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky: There’s no cut-and-dried classification system for outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics. Based on the definitions above, it might seem like the current coronavirus disease, now called COVID-19, falls into the pandemic category already—according to a map from the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 80,000 confirmed cases in 34 countries, and nearly 2700 people have died from the disease. It’s also beginning to impact travel, stock markets, and the global economy as a whole. But WHO maintains that although the situation has the potential to become a pandemic, it’s still an epidemic for now.

“It really is borderline semantics, to be honest with you,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN earlier this month. “I think you could have people arguing each end of it. Pandemics mean different things to different people.”

[h/t APIC.org]

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