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Antiquated Words - Oddballs Only

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June 19, 2007, 11:28
wordcrafter
Antiquated Words - Oddballs Only
We've spent a week tracing words with a particular kind of history. This week we'll be historical by looking at some interesting antiquated terms.

catchpole; catchpoll – a sheriff's officer, especially one who arrests debtors [also figurative, as in the dramatic final quote]
Interesting etymology: from older French that literally meant 'chicken chaser'! This antique term would seem appropriate today for such unsavory minor officials as dogcatchers and truant officers.
June 19, 2007, 11:41
neveu
quote:
Interesting etymology: from older French that literally meant 'chicken chaser'!

Chico (Leonard) Marx got his nickname because he was a "chicken chaser", but I think it was a different kind of metaphorical chicken. Asked to describe his brother, Groucho once said "Chico introduced gonorrhea to the vaudeville circuit."
June 19, 2007, 13:11
jerry thomas
quote:
Groucho once said "Chico introduced gonorrhea to the vaudeville circuit."


Just one more way to seek applause.

Clap clap clap.
June 19, 2007, 16:14
Hic et ubique
Don't give chase. Isn't it easier to sneak up on the chicken and catch it unaware, otherwise known as the pullet surprise?

<groan>
June 20, 2007, 15:50
wordcrafter
Credit for this week's words goes to a fine browsing-book, Forgotten English by Jeffrey Kacirk, who chooses his words so that he can then relate fascinating old customs, beliefs and practices from which those words arise.

pismire – an ant
pissant – insignificant, worthless, petty; contemptible (noun: a person of that sort) Piss means … well, just what you think it means. And pismire and pissant each refer to ant-the-insect, mire being an old word for 'ant'. (see also here).

Huh? What earthly connection is there between piss and the active little ant? (Yet there must be a connection, since many languages combine the piss and mire roots.) OED says "on account of the urinous smell of an anthill," and AHD says "from the smell of the formic acid that ants secrete." But that strikes me as nonsense: to my 2007 nose, ants and anthills have no particular smell.

So what is the ant-and-piss connection? Kacirk mention "a clue", though not what I think is the answer, when he mentions My guess? Olden dirt roads were trod by horses, cattle, donkeys and other domestic beasts, who would give the road regular doses of urine. They would concentrate their deposits in particular spots (presuming that they prefer, as dogs do, to do their business at spots where others have preceded them), and ants would prefer to build their nests in the nutrient-enriched (and urine-smelling) soil!

So though Kacirk speaks of a urine-smell "that was once ‘believed’ to ‘mysteriously’ emanate from anthills," the smell was not a belief but a fact, and not mysterious at all. Our ancestors were not superstitiously imagining the smell. We’ve forgotten that fact because, as animals no longer hoof it along our road, the modern nose is not exposed to their by-products.

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June 21, 2007, 18:36
wordcrafter
toad-eater – a fawning flatterer, parasite, sycophant (also called a toady)

Toads were thought to be highly poisonous. A quack salesman, to demonstrate to his dupes – er, audience – that he could cure poison, would have his assistant (his toad-eater) eat a toad, go through entertaining contortions as if suffering an agony of poisoning, and then be cured by the master’s skill.
June 21, 2007, 20:14
Kalleh
I have really enjoyed the theme this week, Wordcrafter. I used to have a friend who would always use the word "toady," and I hadn't heard it that much either before or since then. Is it more a regional word?
June 21, 2007, 20:56
Seanahan
I think it is a pretty antiquated word. David Eddings uses it fairly often in his fantasy novels, but he was trained in classic epic fantasy, and has described his attempts to use such words (like leagues, instead of miles) to make you feel more into the time period.
June 22, 2007, 02:41
arnie
quote:
bellows-blowing slang-whangers
Now that's a nice phrase! Smile


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
June 23, 2007, 07:56
wordcrafter
Gandermooner is on many wordlists, but did the writers know what it meant, or just speculate or copy from each other? They had few usage examples to work from, and they give inconsistent definitions and unconvincing (to me) etymologies.

That looks like speculation, so I feel free to offer my own speculation. (Detailed rationale to be set forth on the board, lest you be bored with it here.) The authorities teach that moon refers to a certain time one month long, but I think it refers to a certain once-a-month event.

gandermooner – a husband who strays each month, during the "time of month" when his wife is "unavailable"

An erudite 1889 slang-dictionary comments,

Gander, a married man … It may be remarked in this connection that geese or gheeze in Dutch slang means a young girl, any girl; also a lady of pleasure. It is very probable that there is an undercurrent of meaning in reference to these slang words in the nursery rhyme:–
June 23, 2007, 19:49
wordcrafter
I'm being careful not to claim more than I know here. Today's word is used in several old writings with the meaning "to make lively; to spruce up; to polish up."

It may have had a memorable related meaning, in the trade-slang of horse dealing. Grose's old glossary lists this sense, but I can find only one usage-example more or less on point. (Other glossary-writers note it too, but apparently just took it from Grose. It's the sort of thing that they – and I – would like to include it.) Admittedly, the meaning Grose gives is hardly one likely to used in writings valuable enough to be preserved.

feague – (of a horse) to put ginger up a horse's rear end, to make him lively and carry his tail wellHorse-dealers were notorious for shifty dealing. As Shakespeare noted in King Lear, "He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath."
June 24, 2007, 16:23
wordcrafter
A man on horseback can "drive" home from the pub though thoroughly drunk, trusting his horse to know the way home. So why not take one last drink, what we'd call "one for the road'?

stirrup-cup – a drink handed to a man already on horseback setting out; a parting glass. Also called deoch an doris, Gael. for 'drink at the door'.

By Scottish custom this drink is provided free of charge – which is key to a story told in Sir Walter Scott's Waverly, ch. XI. Here's a later retelling:

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June 25, 2007, 16:29
wordcrafter
Our last quote, long but lovely, illustrates the original sense, which today is uncommon.

moon-calf
  • originally: a misshapen mass in the uterus (thought to be caused by the baleful influence of the moon); a false pregnancy; also, from this: a monster
  • more commonly: a born fool; a simpleton; or one given to absent-minded daydreaming (but coming to be used in the sense of "someone sentimentally love-sick")And the original sense, from a tale told by a man who ages backwards:
  • July 12, 2007, 16:10
    tsuwm
    quote:
    Originally posted by wordcrafter:
    Gandermooner is on many wordlists, but did the writers know what it meant, or just speculate or copy from each other? They had few usage examples to work from, and they give inconsistent definitions and unconvincing (to me) etymologies.



    gandermooner – a husband who strays each month, during the "time of month" when his wife is "unavailable"



    your old friend Ammon Shea defined it as a "man who chases women during the month after his wife has given birth," and marvels at the specificity of the term!