In a world where we often express ourselves with emojis, hashtags, slang and abbreviations, it’s easy to forget that some of the best words in the English language belong to a bygone age.
So this week, Word Geek decided to jump into her time machine and travel back to rediscover some intriguing terms that have faded from the pages of our modern English dictionaries. Here are some of her favourite words from years past, which in her view should be reintroduced to our lexicon:
As a massive fan of the literary world, Word Geek decided to step back to Shakespearean times in search of some weird and wonderful words. William Shakespeare is routinely credited with the introduction of over 1700 words, a lot of which are still used in the English language today. And yet, like all artists, he has suffered some flops, a number of forgotten words that didn’t stand the test of time.
One of these words is co-mart. First used in Hamlet, the Bard used the word co-mart to describe a binding agreement. This word did such a poor job of catching on that it’s been removed from most modern versions of Hamlet. In fact some literary historians believed it to be a misprint and replaced co-mart with a word we all know today, covenant.
If you’ve ever woken up too early or eaten too much food, you’ve probably experienced Zwodder.
Dating back to the early 1800s, Zwodder is a world from the dialect of Somerset which describes a drowsy, stupid state of body or mind. Zwodder certainly doesn’t appear to have standard English roots due to its spelling. Middle Dutch has swadderen which means to be weary or staggering due to drinking and Anglo-Saxon had swodrian which meant becoming drowsy or falling asleep. Either way, next time Word Geek forgets to return a phone call or run an errand, she will certainly put it down to Zwodder.
If you want to see your colleagues look confused, tell them you’ll be booking a meeting for a sennight’s time. Just as a fortnight is fourteen nights, a sennight is seven nights (a week). The first known use of the term was in the 15th century, derived from the old English words seofon (seven) and nihta (nights), and it was originally written as two words. It’s an oddity of the language that fortnight has survived in Modern English (though not America), while sennight is now obsolete. It did last into the twentieth century in some local dialects, though it was eventually replaced with the use of week.
We probably all know someone who has fallen foul of this term, especially as we live in the internet age. Ultracrepidarian describes someone who is happy to give their opinion on a subject that they know absolutely nothing about.
Dating back to the beginning of the 19th century, Ultracrepidarian was first recorded in 1819 by the English writer and painter, Walliam Hazlitt, who wrote a scathing 6,000-word open letter to fellow critic and editor of the Quaterly Review, William Gifford which included this sentence: “You have been well called an Ultra-Crepidarian critic.”
Although William Hazlitt’s letter provides us with the earliest known use of the term ultracrepidarian, it’s questionable whether or not he coined the word himself (not least because he seems to allude to Gifford having already been labelled with it in his letter).