English, being a language with a rich and varied history, has an abundant array of words that can make you raise an eyebrow or two. Some of these words have unusual meanings, others have peculiar pronunciations, and a few have both. Let's delve into the world of the strange and the bizarre, as we unearth the top 10 most peculiar English words and their ancient origins.
A quire is not a group of singers, but rather it refers to a measurement of paper. Specifically, a quire originally referred to 24 or 25 sheets of paper. The term hails from the Latin word 'quaterni', which means 'four each'. This was because during the Middle Ages, paper was an expensive commodity and would often be folded into four sheets.
Gobbledygook is a term we use today to describe language that is meaningless or hard to understand. It was introduced by a U.S. lawmaker, Maury Maverick, in the 1940s to criticize the overly complex language used in politics. The term was inspired by the sounds turkeys make, 'gobble, gobble', which to the human ear, is undecipherable.
A flibbertigibbet is a frivolous or flighty person. The term is derived from the Middle English 'flepergebet', which refers to a gossip or chatterer. It was later popularized by the play 'King Lear' by William Shakespeare, where a character named Flibbertigibbet was a demon of frivolity.
Brouhaha, meaning an uproar or hubbub, comes from the French term of the same spelling. The French term is believed to have been derived from the Hebrew phrase ‘barukh habba’, which means ‘blessed be the one who comes’. The term was used in religious ceremonies, which often involved noisy celebrations, thus leading to its current meaning.
To lollygag is to spend time aimlessly or to dawdle. The word is believed to have originated in the early 19th century in the United States, possibly as a combination of the words 'loll', meaning to lounge or relax, and 'gag', an old term for a joke or deception.
Poppycock is a term used to express that something is nonsense or foolish talk. The word comes from the Dutch 'pappekak', literally translating to 'soft dung'. It was likely used to denote something of little value, hence its current meaning.
Skedaddle is a somewhat humorous term meaning 'to depart quickly or hurriedly; to run away'. This term is believed to have originated during the American Civil War in the 1860s, though its exact origins remain unclear.
A lickspittle is a person who behaves obsequiously to those in power. It originates from the Mid-17th century, from the words 'lick' and 'spittle', a term for saliva. The term paints a vivid, if somewhat unpleasant, picture of someone so subservient they would even lick up another's spit.
A snollygoster is a shrewd, unprincipled person, particularly a politician. The term is believed to have originated in the 19th century, from a mythical creature used to frighten children. Eventually, it was used to describe crafty politicians, perhaps due to their ability to scare and manipulate the public.
Malarkey is another term for nonsense or meaningless talk. It's believed to have originated from an Irish surname, although its exact roots are unknown. Today, it is commonly associated with U.S. President Joe Biden, who frequently uses the term.
English is a language full of surprises. These ten words are just a sampling of the bizarre and unusual terms that inhabit our language. Though some of these words may not be in common use today, they offer a fascinating glimpse into the rich and varied history of the English language. So, the next time you come across a word that seems strange, take a moment to dig into its history. You might just uncover an intriguing story.