It is sometimes said of the English Language that it is easy to learn the basics of, but incredibly difficult to master. With so much history and so many influences, it is a complex language. Many native English speakers themselves struggle with the grammatical ins and outs and the random irregularities. This blog post https://perfectlyspoken.com/blog/odd-words-in-the-english-language/ appeared a little while ago and very much inspired this further look into old and rather odd English words. Sympathy should be given to those trying to get to grips with the language with all its confusions and difficulties; regional variations of English old and new, words that we understand even though we don’t really understand them, and old words that we could do with reviving.
Ahh, the lovely regions of England. All different and interesting, but to the language learner a total minefield. If they can cope with the diverse and varying strengths of very different sounding accents, next come the vocabulary variations. Travel the country and you’ll find people saying snickett, ginnel or alleyway for the same thing. And the humble bread roll? Maybe a roll, but perhaps a bap, barm, batch or cob. Here are some older regional variations that could be useful.
Floby-mobly – when you are feeling not exactly unwell, but not quite at your best. From central England, but we’ve all had a few floby-mobly days.
Razzle – to burn the outside whilst cooking, with the inside remaining raw. East or north England, or anywhere where the BBQ is too hot!
Slitherum – a dawdling, slow-moving person. East based again, this has nothing to do with very small slices of anything or the way snakes move (or a certain school house at Hogwarts), yet they are in M&S everywhere. How confusing.
Despite talk of accents dying out, in the UK our regional identities are still alive. If we want to know how the language is going to change, scientist say you should listen to how young women are speaking. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2194114-a-dialect-quiz-shows-we-still-cling-to-our-regional-identities/
Words that survived in sayings
There is a small group of words that we do understand, but only as they are sandwiched in particular sayings that have stood the test of time. Take these words out of their context and you may struggle to give them a definition. Examples include:
Eke – can you define the verb to eke? Not easily, but yet English speakers know what it is to eke something out. To stretch it or scrape by.
Fro – Where is fro? It’s neither here or there. Yet if someone is going to and fro, we know their frustrations as they go back and forth repeatedly.
Shrift – We all know we don’t want it to be short and directed at us!
Old English Words We Could With Reviving!
Language shifts with the times and slowly changes. We wonder how our reliance of technology is changing things now. There are words that slowly drop out of use that would be confusing for a learner to encounter. But some of these may end up seeming appropriate again for modern times!
Cumberworld – Someone who is so useless they only exist in order to take up space. A wonderful insult. A cumberworld is literally someone who is an encumbrance on the world.
Crapulous – to feel ill because you ate too much or drank too much. It’s a specific feeling that most of us have experienced. Curry houses across the UK are groaning on Friday night with people feeling crapulous as they walk home. It’s true at the Sunday roast table too.
Fudgel – pretending to work when you’re really doing nothing at all. This is surely easier than it ever was in ye olde England. With the ubiquitous computer screen to sit behind as a mask of false productivity, we can fudgel the day away.
Ultracrepidarian – A person who will take literally any chance to share their opinions on things they truly know nothing about. In the age of social media we all know a few of these. In the true British English spirit, one dictionary maker has classed this word in the group ‘polite words for impolite people’. They list many others: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/polite-words-for-impolite-people/smatchet
The good news is that of the 170,000+ words in current use in our language, the average English speaker uses around 4000 words in daily life. Phew. However, to become fluent in a language experts say you need upwards of 10,000 words. Let’s hope not too many of them are like the above!