Month: March 2020

rigmarole

“Rigmarole” means complicated, bothersome nonsense, a long rambling discourse, or a lengthy procedure. The word appears about 1736, apparently from “ragman roll” meaning a long list or catalogue. The meaning did not become “foolish activity or commotion” until 1939. The story behind “rigmarole” goes back to a 1200s list of names known as the Ragman Roll. Edward I of England…

what in the Sam Hill

Last Sunday’s post was about minced oaths. “What in the Sam Hill!” is another example. The Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang says the exclamation “Sam Hill!” (also used as “What the Sam Hill!” or “What in Sam Hill!”) originated in early 1800s America as a euphemism for “Hell!” In other words, a minced oath. The Oxford English Dictionary says the origin…

collywobbles

“Collywobbles” means a state of intestinal disorder, sometimes accompanied by a rumbling stomach. It’s also employed figuratively to refer to the fluttering (or butterflies) in the stomach caused by nervousness or apprehension. The origin isn’t known but there are, naturally, theories about where and when it arose. It may have been a nonsense word created from “colic” plus “wobble.” “Wobble”…

malarkey

“Malarkey” has been a part of American slang at least since the 1920s, and is a name for pretentious, exaggerated, high-flown language that finally adds up to mere nonsense. The Oxford English Dictionary, whose first published reference for “malarkey” is from 1929, says the origin of the word is unknown. Its first known user was the cartoonist T A Dorgan,…

the sky is falling

“The sky is falling” describes a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent. Henny Penny, more commonly known in the US as Chicken Little is a European folk tale with a moral about a chicken who believes the world is coming to an end. Versions of the story go back more than 25 centuries. The story is an examples…

minced oath

According to Wikipedia, a “minced oath” is a euphemistic expression formed by misspelling, mispronouncing, or replacing a part of a profane, blasphemous, or taboo term to reduce the original term’s objectionable characteristics. In other words, you’re cursing but pretending you’re not. Minced oaths have been used from ancient times in the universal art of swearing. They are often religious in…

mince words

To “mince words” means to be anything but straightforward. It usually involves the use of euphemisms to keep within the bounds of what is considered prudent or polite.  If you spend any time cooking, you might imagine that mincing one’s words means chopping up words to make them more palatable. That culinary meaning of mince dates back as far as…

rambunctious

“Rambunctious” means energetic, noisy, lacking in restraint or discipline, exuberant, boisterous. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word first appeared in 1830 and is primarily a US term. “Rambunctious” is an alteration of “rumbustious” (1777), meaning “unruly, boisterous,” and “boisterous” is probably an alteration of “robustious” (1548), meaning “sturdy, strong,” which in turn comes from “robust.” The root of…

goofy words

The English language has many “goofy” words. They’re fun because they are goofy and also fun to say. Here are a few that don’t appear to have much or any history and for which I could find no sources. Caterwauling — a shrill howling or wailing noise like that of a cat Fiddle-de-dee — exclamation of impatience, disbelief, or disagreement…