10 Long-Forgotten Words To Get You Through The Festive Season
Paul Anthony Jones is the author of several books on trivia and language, including The Accidental Dictionary, Word Drops, The British Isles: A Trivia Gazetteer, Haggard Hawks & Paltry Poltroons and its sequel, Jedburgh Justice & Kentish Fire. He appears regularly in the Telegraph online, BBC Radio 4's World at One, Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post and Mental Floss, and has contributed to the Guardian, Independent and Woman's Weekly, and Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries online. He also runs @HaggardHawks, the hugely popular language-based Twitter account and YouTube channel. He lives in Newcastle upon Tyne. His latest book, The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words, is both a fascinating compendium of etymology and a captivating historical miscellany. Below, exclusively for Foyles, Paul explores 10 words that will resonate at this time of year.
Now that the clocks have gone back and the leaves are off the trees, Christmas is well on its way. So with the season of crammed shopping centres and equally crammed dining tables, last minute present-buying and last-minute deadlines upon us, here are ten of the English language’s most curious long-forgotten words that you might find useful this time of year.
Derived from a Latin word meaning ‘to purchase’, emacity is a fondness for buying things. One step on from that is oniomania, derived from the Greek for ‘sale’, which describes a compulsive urge to buy things. So if you find yourself adding extra presents into your shopping list or throwing more food than you need into your shopping trolley, at least you have a name for it.
A word worth remembering for the morning commute all the year round, not just when the weather turns for the worst, croochie-proochles is a Scots dialect name for the discomfort or fidgetiness caused by sitting in a cramped position for too long. It’s apparently a corruption of crouch and prickle, the latter probably in the sense of a numbness or a feeling of pins and needles.
You might find yourself suffering from croochie-proochles after sitting in a Symplegades. Derived from the Greek name (meaning 'crushing ones') for the two opposing walls of rocks at the north end of the Bosphorus — that, according to legend, were supposed to smash together and destroy any ships that dared to sail past them — the name Symplegades can be used allusively in English for any dangerously or uncomfortably cramped situation. Worth bearing in mind when you head out Christmas shopping…
If you find yourself working late ahead of the holidays, it might be worth remembering that a rush to finish work ahead of a looming deadline is a charette. Literally ‘chariot’ in French, charette derives from an old practice in Parisian art schools of trundling a wheeled cart between students’ desks as they worked to complete their artworks and design projects on time. Once the deadline was reached, anything not already submitted or placed on the charette would not be counted for assessment. The students’ feverish rush to make a deadline ultimately became know as a nuit de charette, or ‘charette night’, and eventually the term fell into use in English and eventually came to refer to any frantic, last-minute period of work.
5. BULL WEEK
The week before Christmas (when you might find yourself working a charette or two) is called Bull Week. According to the English Dialect Dictionary, this term derives from a tradition at Sheffield’s cutlery factories in the nineteenth century, where employees were rewarded with a whole roast bull if they could finish all the extra pre-Christmas work in time for Christmas Day. ‘To get the bull down’, likewise, came to mean ‘to complete extra work ahead of the Christmas break’.
If, despite your best efforts, you still find yourself with work left to be done on Christmas Eve, then you’re a yuleshard. According to the Scottish National Dictionary, in this context ‘shard’ is a corruption of jade, which has been used as a light-hearted insult or playfully mocking nickname since the 1500s.
A word worth remembering when the office Secret Santa goes around: toe-cover is 1940s slang for an inexpensive but ultimately useless present.
Speaking of gifts, to whullup, according to the English Dialect Dictionary, is to bestow a gift on someone in an attempt to curry favour with them. Other gift-giving words worth knowing include xenium, a gift given to a houseguest; archilowe, a gift (or glass of drink) given in return for help or hospitality; oblation, the act of offering or bestowing gifts; and present-silver, which is money given in lieu of a present. You shouldn’t have gone to all that trouble.
Once the weather turns, be careful not to suffer a peck-of-apples — a word for a heavy fall on icy ground first recorded in a dictionary of the Lincolnshire dialect in 1866. Alas, the origin of peck-of-apples is unknown in this context, but given that a peck is a unit of capacity equal to about two gallons, the allusion is probably to little more than a heavy weight hitting the ground. Ouch.
Your reward at the end of all this is a yule-crush — an eighteenth-century dialect word for a vast Christmas meal or feast after which you might need to adjust your yule-hole — a word from the Scots dialect for the hole you have to move your belt to after a large festive meal.