Posted by: Jack Henry | December 14, 2016

Editor’s Corner: 12 Days of English – Day 5

On the fifth day of English

My true love gave to me

Five rare insults

From our dictionary.

Forget the five golden rings of the song—won’t these rare insults from Merriam Webster get you into the more interesting parties this season? Or get you kicked out? Either way, you’ll have a story to tell!

1. loblolly: lout; a stupid, rude or awkward person

Loblolly was originally a British word for "a thick gruel." Riffing on this, apparently, Americans later used the word to refer to an ugly, boggy mess.

It’s unclear how the word developed its insulting sense, but perhaps the evolution was similar to the current use of words like thick and dense to mean "stupid."

2. blatherskite: a person who talks foolishly at length

It’s alteration of the Scottish compound blather skate (skate means "a contemptible person").

3. crepehanger: killjoy; someone who takes a pessimistic view of things

Black crepe fabric was once an important part of mourning ritual. It was sewn into dresses and veils, wrapped in bands around hats and arms, and draped over doors.

We can speculate that to those who started using this insult, a crepehanger was a "killjoy" almost in a literal sense—the sort of person who took pleasure in a funeral.

4. slubberdegullion: a dirty rascal; scoundrel; wretch

This seventeenth-century coinage even sounds nasty; the word’s probable history backs it up. Slubber, an English dialectal word, means "stain" or "sully," and most likely comes from an obsolete Dutch word meaning "to walk through mud or mire."

5. cacafuego: a swaggering braggart or boaster

The Cacafuego was a Spanish ship captured in 1579 by the English admiral Sir Francis Drake.

The word may have developed its insulting sense because some sailors—either the ones who lost the ship or the ones who won it—did some serious bragging.

Cacafuego, by the way, comes from the Spanish word fuego, meaning "fire," and, ultimately, the Latin cacare. [KC – I’ll let you look this up yourself so that I don’t offend the squeamish.] The word probably referred to the ship’s cannon fire.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

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Symitar Documentation Services

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