another herd of words

To “gallivant,” since 1809, is to travel, roam, or move about for pleasure, to go about usually ostentatiously or indiscreetly with members of the opposite sex. The word may have come from “gallant,” meaning a dashing man of fashion, a fine gentleman, or a man who pays special attention to women.


“Wench” was in use by the late 1200s and meant “young woman,” especially if unmarried.
It came from Middle English as an abbreviation of the obsolete wenchel, meaning child, servant, or prostitute. Over time it came to mean mainly serving girls, as in a bar wench, who serves drinks at a tavern. In Shakespeare’s day a female flax-worker could be a flax-wench, flax-wife, or flax-woman.


bobby dazzler:
A striking or exciting person, especially in dress (northern England).


A “jalopy” is a battered old automobile, or, in this 21st century, a slang term for an obsolete, worn-out machine or hardware device. The term first appeared in the US in the mid-1920s and was also spelled jaloupy, jaloppi, and gillopy. There are, of course, several theories as to the origin, some decidedly far-fetched. My favorite is this one: the word is derived from the misspelling of “Jalapa,” the name of a Mexican town which is famous for the Jalapeño pepper, and also its former junk-car-scrapping industry.


streets ahead:
If you’re “streets ahead,” you’re much better, or superior, or advanced, than most.
The earliest Oxford English Dictionary reference is 1885 in Ireland. In the UK, it’s a very common, but neutral, way of saying, “a long way in front.” One explanation, possibly apocryphal, is that it dates from the time of town criers. The people whose job it was to call out the news started from the town hall and moved outwards. The
streets closest to the center were “streets ahead” of the outer places in being kept informed.


don’t shut the barn door after the horse has gone:
This proverb says that you shouldn’t waste time taking precautions when the damage has already been done. If the horse has already bolted, there’s no point shutting the barn door. It is found in John Gower’s Middle English poem Confessio Amantis, published in 1390 and it may be that the proverb was used in everyday language for some time before that.


  One thought on “another herd of words

  1. May 31, 2020 at 8:15 am

    Love all these words – maybe because they are in my everyday vocabulary. One tiny exception we say: “Don’t shut the STABLE door…”


    • May 31, 2020 at 9:27 am

      I grew up on a farm, and we always used “barn.” Perhaps because my Dad was Canadian and I think (though I’m not sure) that “barn” is more usual in North America.


  2. May 31, 2020 at 9:48 am

    Definitely a barn door in my upbringing as well! One of my very favourite words is in your always interesting column today–gallivant. “Let’s go gallivanting!” was the phrase I’d use to do something more exciting than sitting on the couch and it always made my Mom laugh and find her handbag and my sister grab her running shoes to come with me. Weren’t those were the carefree days!


    • May 31, 2020 at 11:46 am

      And don’t we miss them!! I remember crawling out of bed after a couple of hours sleep to go to my high school Saturday job, no doubt looking the worse for wear, and being greeted with, “Well! I suppose you were out gallivanting half the night! Serves you right!”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: