English Dictionary

300 years on from the birth of Dr Samuel Johnson, author of the first mass-produced dictionary, what once-ubiquitous odd utterances have passed out of use?  

Dr Johnson’s dictionary, published in 1755, was not the first English dictionary to make it into print.  

But it was quickly hailed as the most definitive to date because of two reasons: one, Johnson’s decision to include colloquialisms and slang; and two, for his illustration of meanings using memorable descriptions and quotations. Both helped him attract publicity, and ensured his dictionary remained the most influential of its kind for over 100 years.

 By way of a tribute to Samuel Johnson and his efforts, here are 26 words that have either disappeared from usage or proven too obscure to become commonplace. Most were included in Dr Johnson’s groundbreaking work; the rest have been found lurking in pages of more recent dictionaries.Why not surprise or possibly alarm your friends and colleagues by dropping one of these into a conversation today?

Anatiferous: a barnacle that produces ducks or geese. It was once thought that a particular kind of growth on trees was responsible for the creation of water-based wildfowl. Superstition said that when the barnacle reached a certain size it would drop off, and if it fell into water it would turn into a duck or a goose.


Buffleheaded: a man with a large head, or someone who is dull and stupid.


Circumferoneous: to stroll around your neighbourhood from house to house.


Dandiprat: an urchin.


Eftsoons: soon afterwards, or repeatedly.


Fribbler: a verb to describe someone who is vocal in their appreciation of women, but who is also nervous of their consent. For example: "He fribbled his colleague in front of everyone in the office, and then backed off as soon as he noticed she was interested."


Giglet: a wanton, lascivious girl, from the Middle English word ‘gigelot’.


Hunkers: your haunches.

Impecunious: penniless.


Jobbernowl: an idiot.


Kakistocracy: a form of government whose rulers are the least competent, least qualified or most unprincipled of all citizens.


Lustrum: a period of five years.


Merrythought: a wishbone.


Nidget: a fool, or coward.


Odontalgick: a toothache.


Parbreak: to throw out, or to vomit.


Queer street: a tricky situation, such as being in debt or bankruptcy. For example: "If this goes on much longer, I’ll be in queer street."


Runnion: a mangy or ill-kempt creature (can also be ‘ronion’ or ‘ronyon’).


Snudge: a verb, meaning to be idle. For example: "She snudged around the house until teatime."


Trug: a long, shallow basket for carrying flowers or fruit.

Urinator: a diver; one who searches under water.


Vellicate: a medical term for a substance or medicine that has a sharp or acrid effect; or anything that nips or pinches the body (from the Latin ‘vellere’, meaning to pull, pluck, or twitch).


Warray: a verb, meaning to make war. For example: "This country means to warray upon France".


Xenoglossia: an ability claimed by some mediums and clairvoyants to speak a language with which they are unfamiliar.


Younker: a young gentleman or knight.


Zounds: a mild oath indicating indignation or surprise; derived from the 16th century oath ‘God’s wounds’.



4 thoughts on “English Dictionary

  1. Lol – I think my readers should vote on that one ! I tend to snudge most of my waking hours these days !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. "Impecunious" surely is still in (all too frequent) use, and I\’ve also heard the word "hunkers" used (by Americans). "Younker", I presume, comes from the same root as "junkers" (as in "Prussian Junkers"). But I think that "Kakistocracy" has the best chance of catching on – there seem to be an awful lot of them around these days…

  3. Good Evening Laird, Your blog was fascinating considering I play scrabble and am currently studying English Lit and Lang at college. Monsiuer Bufflehead poses the self depriciating question and my response is; "Ask the Giglet and you will have your answer Sir!" Good Day to you Laird and may your weekend be full of snudginess.

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