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10 historical insults from the OED

Are you looking for some more creative ways to insult someone? We’ve pulled some insults from the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to help you out with that…

1. Flibbertigibbet

A noun that describes ‘a chattering or gossiping person’ and ‘a flighty or frivolous woman’. According to the OED, flibbertigibbet is an imitative formation representing the sound of meaningless chatter. In the early 17th century, it was also the name of a devil or fiend.

2. Foozle

A foozle is ‘a fogy’, or someone who is ‘behind the times’. The word is perhaps connected to the verb foozle ‘to waste one’s time, to fool’, which in turn might be related to the German dialect word fuseln, variously meaning ‘to work hurriedly and badly’. The current OED entry cites the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray with the first usage of the noun foozle.

3. Gammerstang

Gammerstang in the sense ‘a tall, ungainly, or awkward person’ apparently emerged in the late 16th century from Scottish and northern English regional dialects. The insult is usually applied to a woman and in later use also came to mean ‘a rude, coarse, or lewd girl or woman’. It is probably a compound  of gammer ‘an old woman’ (originally a shortening of grandmother or godmother) and stang ‘pole or stake’.

4. Grobian

Denoting a clownish, slovenly person, grobian came into English from German, where it is a humorous pseudo-Latin noun formed from the adjective grob ‘rough, coarse vulgar’.  In the 15th and 16th century this noun was often used jokingly as if it were a Latin name, either of a typical boorish person, or of a fictitious patron saint of such people.

5. Knuckylbonyard

Another obsolete term from the 16th century is knuckylbonyard, meaning ‘a clumsy fellow’. It is apparently derived from knuckle-bone, which refers to any bone forming a knuckle. In current English, a knucklehead is an informal term for a stupid person.

6. Lollard

Lollard was originally a name given to members of a political and religious movement who were followers of John Wycliffe, and viewed by some as heretics in the 14th century. It probably comes from Middle Dutch lollaerd, literally ‘mumbler, mutterer’, from the verb lollen ‘to mutter, mumble’. The sense ‘one who lolls; an idler’, now obsolete and rare, seems to have developed  in the 17th century, by association with the English verb to loll, which means ‘to hang down loosely; to droop, dangle’.

7. Lotterel

The obsolete lotterel was, in the mid-15th century, used as a term of contempt for a rogue or a scoundrel. Its origin is uncertain, but the OED suggests that it might perhaps be a diminutive of an unattested variant of Middle English lodder meaning ‘beggar’.

8. Mafflard

A mafflard is a rare and obsolete term for a stammering or blundering fool. The noun derives from the verb maffle, a regional term in Scotland and England meaning ‘to stammer; to speak indistinctly, mumble’..

9. Shot-clog

An unwelcome companion tolerated because he pays the ‘shot’ (i.e. the bill) for the rest is called a shot-clog. An obsolete and rare term, the OED cites only three examples of usage of the noun – all of them by poet and playwright Ben Jonson.

10. Slubberdegullion

The name for a ‘slobbering or dirty fellow; a worthless sloven’. The noun derives from a verb of Dutch or Low German origin slubber meaning ‘to stain, smear, daub, soil’, the rest of the word is an arbitrary extension. A related formation is slabberdegullion.

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