Just like facts and flies, English words have life spans.
Some are thousands of years old, from before English officially existed; others change or are replaced or get ditched entirely.
Here are 18 uncommon or obsolete words that we think may have died early. We found them in two places: a book called “The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten” by Jeffrey Kacirk, and on a blog called Obsolete Word of The Day that’s been out of service since 2010. Both are fantastic—you should check them out.
Snoutfair: A person with a handsome countenance—“The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten” by Jeffrey Kacirk
Pussyvan: A flurry, temper—“The Word Museum” (Kacirk)
Wonder-wench: A sweetheart—“The Word Museum” (Kacirk)
Lunting: Walking while smoking a pipe—John Mactaggart’s “Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia,” 1824
California widow: A married woman whose husband is away from her for any extended period—John Farmer’s “Americanisms Old and New,” 1889
Groak: To silently watch someone while they are eating, hoping to be invited to join them— www.ObsoleteWord.Blogspot.com
Jirble: To pour out (a liquid) with an unsteady hand: as, he jirbles out a dram—www.Wordnik.com
Curglaff: The shock felt in bathing when one first plunges into the cold water—John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808
Spermologer: A picker-up of trivia, of current news, a gossip monger, what we would today call a columnist—“The Word Museum” (Kacirk)
Tyromancy: Divining by the coagulation of cheese—“The Word Museum” (Kacirk)
Beef-witted: Having an inactive brain, thought to be from eating too much beef.—John Phin’s “Shakespeare Cyclopaedia and Glossary,” 1902
Queerplungers: Cheats who throw themselves into the water in order that they may be taken up by their accomplices, who carry them to one of the houses appointed by the Humane Society for the recovery of drowned persons, where they are rewarded by the society with a guinea each, and the supposed drowned person, pretending he was driven to that extremity by great necessity, is also frequently sent away with a contribution in his pocket.—“The Word Museum” (Kacirk)
Englishable: That which may be rendered into English—John Ogilvie’s “Comprehensive English Dictionary,” 1865
Resistentialism: The seemingly spiteful behavior shown by inanimate objects—www.ObsoleteWord.Blogspot.com
Bookwright: A writer of books; an author; a term of slight contempt—Daniel Lyons’s “Dictionary of the English Language,” 1897
Soda-squirt: One who works at a soda fountain in New Mexico—Elsie Warnock’s “Dialect Speech in California and New Mexico,” 1919
With squirrel: Pregnant—Vance Randolph’s “Down in the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech,” 1953
Zafty: A person very easily imposed upon—Maj. B. Lowsley’s “A Glossary of Berkshire Words and Phrases,” 1888
Carmel Lobello is the business editor at TheWeek.com. Previously, she was style editor at Death + Taxes Magazine and an editor at DeathandTaxesMag.com, where a version of this story originally ran. Follow her on Twitter @carmellobello.
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