15 Forgotten English Words You Should Know

Please note: Some are mildly disturbing. But it’s mostly just a wonder and a joy that these words exist

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Have you ever faked being sick to get the day off from work? Well, you were egroting. Have you ever laid a shampoo bottle on its side to draw the stubborn goop out of the bottom? You were duffifying. Have you ever put a live eel up a horse’s behind? Of course you have, and it so happens you were feaguing.

In his book Horologicon, pusblished this month in the U.S., English blogger Mark Forsyth puts together a collection of words that he describes as too beautiful to live long, too amusing to be taken seriously and too precise to be common. He excavated these gems from obscure dictionaries and, thankfully, does not present them in alphabetical order. Instead, he arranges the terms by the time of day one might use them. They don’t all fit into this scheme—I mean, when it comes to feaguing, it’s five o’clock somewhere, right?!—but it’s much more practical than a big, theme-less list.

Here is a sample of the forgotten English slang, technical terms and euphemisms Forsyth found, our gift to your cocktail banter:

chork (v.): to make the noise that feet do when one’s shoes are full of water.

Example: “Caught in the rainstorm with no shelter, he was soon chorking his way toward a terrible cold.”  Leave it to the Scots, in all their rainy brooding, to have a word for that sloshy squeezing between the toes.

duffifie (v.): to lay a bottle on its side for some time so that it may be completely drained of the few drops remaining.

Example: “The relationship started to fall apart when Dennis uprighted a bottle of ketchup that Sarah had been duffifying for days.” This old Scottish verb is one of those most delightful of miracles—a word for something we all do but never knew had a name.

egrote (v.): to feign sickness in order to avoid work.

Example: “Among lazy men, egroting is a pursuit of perfection.” Forsyth recommends groaning before giving one’s name in a weak voice. Alternatively, he says, an egroter can simply call their boss and yell into the phone, “My thighs! My thighs!”

feague (v.): to put a live eel up a horse’s bottom; used figuratively to describe encouraging someone or getting their spirits up.

Example: “I’ve heard Ann Romney’s secret to winning dressage is feaguing Rafalca right before the competition.” This word, used in the 1700s by what were apparently kinky horse-traders, came from a reference called Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

jehu (n.): a fast or furious driver.

Example: “So I’ve got an idea for a movie. We get a bunch of jehus—well, that’s about it..” A jehu is named for Jehu, a Biblical figure who “driveth furiously” as he went to murder King Ahab by the Lord’s decree.

pedeconference (n.): to hold a meeting while walking.

Example: “Roughly 40% of the West Wing is footage of people pedeconferencing.” Because nothing says power meeting like power walking while you’re having it.

scuddle (v.): to run with an affected haste.

Example: “Desperate to look important and with nothing to do, she scuddled around the office like a pinball.” Next time someone tries to look busy by dashing about and panting needlessly, call them on their blatant scuddling.

throttlebottom (n.): a dishonest man who holds public office.

Example: “’That Barack Obama is a downright throttlebottom!’ said the Tea Party supporter who feigned political opinions so he could wear colonial garb.” Other great political insults include flapdoodler, lollie boy, pollywog and quockerwodger.

uhtceare (n.): lying awake before dawn and worrying.

Example: “Knowing that some object he owned had been secretly put in the toilet bowl, Jerry lay awake, plagued by uhtceare.” Pronounced oot-key-are-a, the word breaks down into two parts: uht, a word for the restless hour before dawn and ceare, an Old English term for care and sorrow.

voyage to the Spice Islands (v.): 18th-century slang for going to the bathroom.

Example: “After eating Thai food, he always had to take a voyage to the Spice Islands. The bathroom could be out of commission for days.” Forsyth also includes an excerpt from a 1653 translation of Rabelais in which toilet paper is called “tail-napkins.”

zarf (n.): the cup-shaped holder for a hot coffee cup that keeps you from burning your fingers.

Example: “Forgetting a zarf often leads to a dangerous game of hot potato.” In the olden days, zarfs were typically metal or ornamental. These days they’re referred to as ‘one of those little cardboard thingys.’”

This is an edition of Wednesday Words, a weekly feature on language. For the previous post, click here.