Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rare Amusing Insults Of The Day

I love these all so much that it's hard to pick a favorite, but if pressed, I would have to go with either snollygoster or hobbledehoy. From Merriam-Webster.



LICKSPITTLE

Definition: A fawning subordinate; a suck-up

Origin: Lick plus spittle says it all: someone who licks another person's spit is pretty low indeed. Incidentally, lickspittle keeps company with bootlicker ("someone who acts obsequiously").

COCKALORUM

Definition: A boastful and self-important person; a strutting little fellow.

Origin: If cockalorum suggests a crowing cock, that's because the word probably comes from kockeloeren – an obsolete Dutch dialect verb meaning "to crow."

SMELLFUNGUS

Definition: An excessively faultfinding person

Origin: The original Smelfungus was a character in an 18th century novel. Smelfungus, a traveler, satirized the author of Travels through France and Italy, a hypercritical guidebook of that time.

SNOLLYGOSTER

Definition: An unprincipled but shrewd person

Origin: The story of its origin remains unknown, but snollygoster was first used in the nasty politics of 19th century America. One definition of the word dates to 1895, when a newspaper editor explained "a snollygoster is a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles...."

NINNYHAMMER

Definition: Ninny; simpleton, fool

Origin: The word ninny is probably a shortening and alteration of "an innocent" (with the "n" from "an" getting transferred to the noun) and "hammer" adds punch. Writers who have used the word include J.R.R. Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings trilogy: "You're nowt but a ninnyhammer, Sam Gamgee."

MUMPSIMUS

Definition: A stubborn person who insists on making an error in spite of being shown that it is wrong.

Origin: Supposedly, this insult originated with an illiterate priest who said mumpsimus rather than sumpsimus ("we have taken" in Latin) during mass. When he was corrected, the priest replied that he would not change his old mumpsimus for his critic's new sumpsimus.

MILKSOP

Definition: An unmanly man; a mollycoddle (a pampered or effeminate boy or man)

Origin: Milksop literally means "bread soaked in milk." Chaucer was among the earliest to use milksop to describe an unmanly man (presumably one whose fiber had softened). By the way, the modern cousin of milksop, milquetoast, comes from Caspar Milquetoast, a timid cartoon character from the 1920s.

HOBBLEDEHOY

Definition: An awkward, gawky young man

Origin: Hobbledehoy rhymes with boy: that's an easy way to remember whom this 16th century term insults. Its origin is unknown, although theories about its ancestry include hobble and hob (a term for "a clownish lout").

PETTIFOGGER

Definition: Shyster; a lawyer whose methods are underhanded or disreputable

Origin: The petti part of this word comes from petty, meaning "insignificant" (from the French petit, "small"). As for fogger, it once meant "lawyer" in English. According to one theory, it may come from "Fugger," the name of a successful family of 15th- and 16th-century German merchants and financiers. Germanic variations of "fugger" were used for the wealthy and avaricious, as well as for hucksters.

MOONCALF

Definition: A foolish or absentminded person

Origin: The original mooncalf was a false pregnancy, a growth in the womb supposedly influenced by a bad moon. Mooncalf then grew a sense outside the womb: simpleton. It also morphed into a literary word for a deformed monster. For instance, in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Stephano entreats Caliban, "Mooncalf, speak once in your life, if thou beest a good mooncalf."

5 comments:

  1. It's only Wednesday and I've already encountered most of the people on this list! "Milksop" and "Ninnyhammer" were the only ones I recognized but I'm pretty sure I'll have an occasion to use "Cockalorum" when I meet with my daughter's principal next week.

    "Smellfungus" made me laugh out loud. I expected a different definition!

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  2. I can remember my grandma using the term Caspar Milquetoast.

    I know a Mumpsimus or two. I just didn't know they had an official name. :)

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  3. I've got to update my word power with some of these.

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  4. Love such things. I intend to use 'snollygoster' very soon.

    I recently picked up a nice little 1978 tome called 'The Book of Insults'. Samples:

    Calling them slubberdegullion druggles...ninny lobcocks, scurvy sneakesbies...noddy meacocks, blockish grutnols, doddi-pol jolt-heads, jobbernol goosecaps, lob-dotterels...codshead loobies, ninnie-hammer fly-catchers...and other such defamatory epithets.

    Francois Rabelais (c.1490-1553)

    This dodipoule, this didopper...Why thou arrant butter whore, thou cotqueane & scrattop of scoldes, wilt thou never leave afflicting a dead Carcase...a wispe, a wispe, rippe, rippe, you kitchin-stuff wrangler.

    Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)on Gabriel Harvey

    Ah, those were the days of invective!

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  5. They all sound like something from Harry Potter.

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