Can You Identify These Old-Timey Words in 6 Minutes?



By: Deborah Beckwin

6 Min Quiz

Image: H. Armstrong Robers/Royalty-free/GettyImages

About This Quiz

Groak. Hugger-mugger. Jargogle. Cockalorum. 

There are so many words like these that come and go. Some of the words that we use today will end up being obsolete in a few decades.

For lexicographers - the fancy term for people who compile dictionaries - our changing language is a subject for study. The dictionary is not really a grammar book. It's a book that captures the words that we use, like these newer ones: manspreading, selfie and binge-watching. 

There are also many colloquialisms, slang words, phrases and idioms that are based on words we already use (e.g., "basic," meaning a person who is interested in popular and mainstream things) or words based on technology (e.g., "Google," which is both a brand name and a verb meaning to search on the web).

Language is a living entity that goes through changes. It may be hard to imagine that centuries from now, our language might be completely unrecognizable. But if you look back to even the 19th century, you'll see words and slang that are no longer in use, like the word "curglaff," which means the sensation of entering into cold water.

So are you ready to ride the waves of the ever-changing ocean of language and take this quiz on old-timey words? We promise it's not just poppycock! Good luck!

When the boss comes around on a slow day, it's time to fudgel. What does "fudgel" mean?

"Fudgel" is an obsolete word that comes from the 18th century. Not much else is known about the etymology of this word, but fudgeling is something that everyone is familiar with.


There seems to be a bunch of ballyhoo about this new TV show. "Ballyhoo" is what?

"Ballyhoo" is a word that's meant to create excitement. It also means a lot of hot air which ends up being nonsense, or claims that are too good to be true. You can imagine this word embodied in a carnival barker trying to entice people to come to the fair.


The assassins were lying "doggo" in the abandoned warehouse. What were the assassins doing?

The first appearance of "doggo" looks to be in the late 19th century. The etymology is unknown, but it could be related to lying down like a dog.


Talking with Kent can be so draining. He's such a blatherskite. What is a "blatherskite"?

"Blatherskite" comes from the 17th century, from the Scottish song "Maggie Lauder." The song gained popularity with American troops during the American Revolution. A blatherskite blathers on and on and on, and is usually not that smart.


Any time I see gummy bears, I have a "cacoethes." What does this person have?

If you have a bad hankering for something, you probably have a "cacoethes." And this is something at manic levels of compulsion, so usually this is seen as a negative desire to have. It was first used around the 1850s.


You can't just put the books all higgledy-piggledy everywhere. We need to organize them by title. What does "higgledy-piggledy" mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, "higgledy-piggledy" made its debut in an Italian-English dictionary in 1598. It was part of a definition of the Italian word "tarabara."


What's going on if you got into an "argy-bargy"?

"Argy-bargy" made its debut in the early 18th century. It's derived from the English and Scots alteration of "argue." A lot of these rhyming words originated in the U.K.


Oh boy, here comes that knipperdolling. He's always preaching about the end times. What is a "knipperdolling"?

According to Merriam-Webster, this term was inspired by a German man named Bernhard Knipperdolling, who was a 16th-century Anabaptist leader. At first, "knipperdolling" was used as a degrading name for all Anabaptists, but then it became a term for religious fanatics.


I wish you could see he only has cupboard love for you, because now you're broke! What is "cupboard love"?

Merriam-Webster cites an 18th-century British court record, which describes what "cupboard love" is. Specifically, it's when a man seems to love a woman, but he really loves her cooking.


A "kakistocracy" is a government ruled by what kind of people?

"Kakistocracy" comes from the Greek word for worst, "kakistos," plus "-cracy," meaning kind of government. This word is from the 19th century.


Someone in a "scurryfunge" is doing what?

"Scurryfunge" is a wonderful word for the last-minute attempt to clean up because visitors are coming. The "scurry" part seems obvious, but we might not want to think too much about the "funge."


That Sen. Smith is definitely a "snollygoster". What does this mean?

"Snollygoster" is typically associated with self-serving politicians. According to Merriam-Webster, it's most likely a variation of the word "snallygoster," a mythical type of bogeyman from rural Maryland that would prey on children and poultry.


This salad is basically a gallimaufry of all my favorite veggies. What is a "gallimaufry"?

The word "gallimaufry" has Old French and Picard origins, with the root words meaning "have fun" and "eat copious quantities." The first known use of this word happened around the mid-16th century.


What a fustilugs! He just came through here and broke my favorite vase! A "fustilugs" is a what?

Merriam-Webster states that "fustilugs" is the combination of two words. "Fusty" means stale and "lug" means a large, clumsy man.


Someone who speeds through a red light is driving "harum-scarum," meaning what?

"Harum-scarum" made its debut in 1751, and it may be related to a word that we still use today - "helter-skelter." "Harum Scarum" is the title of a 1965 movie starring Elvis Presley (and "Helter Skelter" is the title of both a movie and a song).


The baby is just "jangling" away. What the baby doing?

"Jangle" is a word we still use, mainly to describe a harsh, discordant sound. But "jangle" in the past also meant idle talk or chatter. The first use of jangle was back in the 14th century.


You wake up and see your hair is full of "elflocks"! What is going on with your hair?

"Elflocks" is more of a literary term. It means that it looks like elves have come during the night and tangled someone's hair. The first use of this word is in the late 16th century.


She likes to be a "slugabed" on the weekends. What does she like to be?

"Slugabed" made its debut in 1592, and this word is derived from two words: the verb "slug," which means to be slow or lazy, and "abed," which means to be in bed.


If someone is "crapulous" during New Year's Eve, what are they doing?

"Crapulous" sounds like a scurrilous word, but it means that one has no restraint with food or drink. It also means feeling ill after drinking alcohol. This word made its debut in the mid-16th century.


He was so gorgonized by her beauty, he nearly hit the car in front of him. What does "gorgonized" mean?

"Gorgonize" has its roots in Greek mythology. A Gorgon was any of the three sisters with snakes for hair, whose glares could turn anyone into stone.


He gave you advice about your dog and he's never owned one? What an "ultracrepidarian"! What is this person?

"Ultracrepidarian" comes from a story from ancient Greece. Apelles, a Greek painter, overhead a cobbler negatively remark on how he painted a foot in his painting. Although we don't know exactly what Apelles said, we know it must have been a great comeback and related to the Latin phrase "ultra crepidam," which means "beyond the sole."


This jiggery-pokery he's done is finally catching up to him. What is "jiggery-pokery"?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "jiggery-pokery" probably has Scots origins to "joukery-pawkery," with "juke" meaning to avoid or dodge. Jiggery-pokery first appeared in the late 19th century.


If you're headed to the "hoosegow," then where are you headed?

"Hoosegow" is a slang word from the Old American West days. It's a phonetic version of the Spanish word "juzgado," which means a panel of judges or a tribunal. So this type of jail was probably one in the same building as the courtroom.


Look at her as she gives this toast. She is so vinomadefied, she can barely talk. What does "vinomadefied" mean?

There are many ways that one can be drunk, and this word means a specific kind of drunk. "Vinomadefied" in Latin literally means to be soaked in wine.


If you say that a meal was "goluptious," what are you saying?

"Goluptious" has different spellings, including "goloptious," and it means something is splendid or delightful. It could be a variation of the word "voluptuous." "Goluptious" is considered to be a slang word.


If someone called you "beef-witted," what did they call you?

Ever hear the phrase "as dumb as an ox"? That where "beef-witted" (also synonymous with "beef-brained") comes from. It's unclear when the first mention of the word was made.


Someone just called you a "flibbertigibbet." What did they call you?

The word "flibbertigibbet" used to mean someone who gossips or chatters. The word itself sounds like gibberish. It made its first appearance with this more recent definition - a silly or flighty person - in the 15th century.


If you're "frobly-mobly," how are you feeling?

"Frobly-mobly" is a word that comes from the 19th century. It is similar to another archaic word, "awvish." It specifically has to do with how one is feeling - sick or great - and it's somewhere in the middle.


He said my butt was callipygian, just like J. Lo's. What does "callipygian" mean?

"Callipygian" is a word with Greek origins. It alludes to a first-century BCE sculpture named Venus Callipyge, which is the "Venus of the beautiful buttocks." The first use of the word was in the 19th century.


That wolf's-head will get what's coming to him one day. What is a "wolf's-head"?

A "wolf's-head" is an old term for an outlaw. It comes from Old English words. The outlaw is deemed to be a lone wolf.


If your friend is a "smell-feast," they are always doing what?

A "smell-feast" has a special gift - somehow they will always find their way to the best meals, and that may include your own! And as you can probably tell, this isn't really a compliment.


When she put on her perfume, it was more of an effluvium than anything else. What does "effluvium" mean here?

"Effluvium" comes from a Latin word meaning "to flow out." This also means a byproduct, usually a waste byproduct.


I hope I don't get what Bob has. He's got a bad case of presenteeism. What does "presenteeism" mean?

"Presenteeism" is a word that first showed up in the 1930s. It's nothing that anyone really wants to do, but some people may feel forced to come to work sick to avoid getting fired.


If you're going to the "vomitorium," where are you going?

This name is a bit of a historical misnomer. Some people associate "vomitorium" with a mythical place where the Romans would vomit their food in order to make room for more. But this word does go back to Roman times, for the entrance or exit to a theater or colosseum.


If you're talking a lot of "bunkum," your words are full of what?

"Bunkum" was originally spelled "buncombe," which is for Buncombe County, North Carolina. On February 25, 1820, Rep. Felix Walker gave an off-topic, rambling speech in which he said he was "talking for Buncombe." This phrase became the dismissive term, "bunkum."


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