January word herd

Slumgullion — originally, food that was liquid, semi-liquid, or muddy. Now it means a cheap or insubstantial meat stew. Mark Twain, in Roughing It, 1872, says, “Then he poured for us a beverage which he called ‘Slum gullion,’ and it is hard to think he was not inspired when he named it. It really pretended to be tea, but there was too much dish-rag, and sand, and old bacon-rind in it to deceive the intelligent traveler.” American dictionaries suggest it may be a combination of slum, an old English term meaning slime plus gullion, English dialect for mud or a cesspool. Charming!

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Rapscallion — rogue, villain, scalawag, knave, rascal. Recorded as early as 1330 and deriving from the Old French rascaille (outcast, rabble). The word has a humorous or mischievous quality, suggestive of the underdogs and Robin Hoods of the world.

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Eye-wash — rubbish, humbug, nonsense. Something that is intended to obscure or conceal actual facts or motives; something said or done merely for appearance or effect. 

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Gift of the gab — the ability to speak well or a lot. This idiom originates from the Middle English word ‘gob’ which means mouth, and ‘gabbe’ which means idle talk. (1600s) The Irish Blarney Stone is said to bestow the goft of gab on whoever kisses it.

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Malapert — insolent, bold, impudent. Known in English from the 1300s, and a favorite of Shakespeare’s. The prefix mal-, meaning “bad,” is found in many English words, including “malevolent” and “malodorous.” The second half of “malapert” comes from the Middle English apert, meaning “open” or “frank.” Putting the two halves together gives us a word that describes someone or something that is open or honest in a bad way.

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