Can You Tell Us the Meaning of These Old-Timey Words Without Asking Your Grandparents?


By: Teresa McGlothlin

6 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Let's take a trip back in time! While we're there, let's examine some of the words your grandparents or your great-grandparents would have used. We think you might be surprised by how many of them you actually know, but the only way to find out is to challenge yourself with this old-timey word quiz. 

As we open up the books to the past, we are going to challenge your knowledge of old-fashioned words like never before. While we're sure you will fly through this challenge without much of a problem, you might find yourself learning a few new words to add to your own vocabulary. Imagine the look on your sweetheart's face when you ask them for a buss! 

If you've ever heard your grandparents use strange words, imagine how they feel listening to your newfangled vernacular. For this quiz, put yourself in their shoes and see how many words from their time you can figure out. You might feel slightly challenged, but you'll walk away with a lot of insight about your elders' vocabulary. 

If you're ready to time travel with us, we're ready to see how many old-time words you know. Will get as many right as you think you will? 

If you are talking about a problem in the backfield that's a little ways out there, where is the problem located?

When someone told you to go over yonder, you would have been going over there. Yonder is a word used to describe a different location.


If you are going to a hootenanny, where are you going?

Back in the day, you might have gone to a shindig or a hootenanny. The term was originally used in the Appalachian mountains! These days, we boringly refer to the gatherings as parties.


What would he mean if your Pops said you were a slugabed?

If you've ever known a teenager who prefers to stay in bed, you have known a slugabed. Slugabeds are lazy people who stay in bed doing nothing.


What else would you call a pickpocket?

Rather than using the word pickpockets, people used the word cutpurses. A cutpurse is another word for a skilled pickpocket or thief.


If you hear the word rapscallion, what do you think it is?

Everyone has a rapscallion friend. They simply cannot help themselves from being mischievous and causing chaos.


What would you have called an ornamental object?

In addition to being ornamental, fandangles also had no real purpose. A fandangle is an ornament with no other use than to look pretty.


Just incase your grandpa asks to borrow it, how much money equals a doit?

Although two cents was worth more back then than it is now, a small amount of money was referred to as a doit. Even though it wasn't much, having a doit was better than being broke!


You hear that back in the day, your great aunt was a famous melodist. What is everyone actually referring to?

Instead of being blanket labeled as a singer, decades ago you would have been a melodist. Melodists are those who are brave enough to open their mouths and sing in public.


What would you have called a bartender many years ago?

The people pouring your pints back in the early days were known as tapsters. Much like the craft beer craze, tapsters were experts at tapping kegs and getting just the right head on your beer.


What did a bibliopole sell back in the day?

Decades ago, you couldn't mail order books from Amazon. Instead, you took a trip to your local bibliopole to purchase your reading materials.


If a doctor told you to take your medicine for a sennight, how long would you be taking your medicine for?

If you were to come back in a sennight and retake this quiz, you might get even more of them right. A week of rest can do a lot for the brain!


If you are told to go visit the fishwife, what are you going to do?

When purchasing dinner from the local fish market, you were likely to buy from a fishwife. Fishwife was a term used to describe women who sold fish.


What term was used to describe someone who was born with low social standing?

Those who were not lucky enough to be born into royalty or wealth were considered baseborn. Baseborn people were those born with a lower social standing.


What would your great-uncle call an extra large, alcoholic drink?

When you were served an oversized alcoholic drink back in your grandparents' time, you would have been served a bumper. Many tapsters served bumpers to keep their clients coming back.


What's an old-timey word for a kiss?

The next time your sweetheart wants a kiss, offer them a buss and see how it goes over. A term rarely used these day, buss mean to kiss.


What kind of animal is your grandma talking about when she says she saw a camelopard?

The next time you want to impress your friends at a party, refer to a giraffe as a camelopard. Until the late 19th century, it was common to call giraffes camelopards.


Which of these words would be okay to call an older woman?

Although it's always dangerous to mention a woman's age, being called a beldam was a term of distinction. Being a beldam meant that you were an older and more respected woman.


Which old-timey word means that you are a full-fledged citizen of your town?

Instead of just saying where you live back in the day, you exclaimed that you are a burgess of your town or province. If you are a burgess, you are a fully committed citizen of the place you live.


Which old-fashioned word means frozen?

According to old-timey words, when you open your freezer the contents are frore. Frore is another way of saying frozen or frosty.


If you were towing your cousins around in the backyard in their playwagon, what would your Grandpa call the wagon?

Back in the day when you took your wagon or cart to the market, you were towing your wain behind your carriage. A wain is another way to refer to something that was towed behind a buggy or tractor.


Where would you pick growing tomatoes, mow the lawn, or rake the leaves from if your grandparents needed it?

Showing off your beautiful yard or garden meant that you were showing off your garth. Folks were quite proud of the upkeep of their garth, and they loved showing them off.


Can you pick apart what asunder means?

You might recognize the term asunder from wedding ceremonies. Asunder is another word for apart. As in, "Let no man pull it asunder."


If you wanted to go for a nice hike, where would you go?

Centuries ago, lush, foliage-laden forests were called greenwoods. Greenwoods were well-known hangouts for outlaws like Robin Hood and his Merry Men.


How do you think your grandparents would define the word doxy?

Before the sexual revolution, having a mistress or a lover was taboo. If you did engage is such activity, you were involved with a doxy.


What old-fashioned word would you use to refer to a farmer you knew?

Instead of simply being called farmers, men who ran farms were called husbandmen. A husbandman's livelihood depended upon the yearly crops and livestock.


What would you call a coward if you really felt disgusted by their actions?

Back in the day, cowardly folks were called poltroons. However, the term was reserved for those who possessed the most cowardice.


What would your aunt mean if she called you a mooncalf?

A moon calf is a foolish person. The next time your best friend is acting a fool, call them a mooncalf. Once you explain that it means foolish person, they might not be as offended—or they might be more offended!


If your sister brought a conceited guy home for family dinner, what would your grandmother call him after they leave?

Everyone has a coxcomb in their life. A coxcomb is an overly conceited man; despite a coxcomb's bravado, they are also known to be quite cowardly. Try to warn your sister if she does bring one of these home to meet Granny.


What kind of bird is a popinjay?

Your grandparents may have called parrots popinjays, but popinjay also has another meaning. It can also be used to refer to a vain and extravagant person.


What word would your eldest preacher use to call for a prayer?

The devoutly religious used to call written prayers orisons. Orisons were a way for people to pray in unison without having to make up words.


What would your grandmother call a ball of thread?

During our grandparent's time, people were resourceful enough to make their own clothing. You might find several clews, or balls of thread, around any old-timey household.


Where could you find a posy if you were told to look for one?

When you really wanted to show your love for someone, you would give them a ring with a posy inside. A posy is an inscription found inside a ring.


Do you have a flickering notion for what old-timey word means candle?

How many glims were on your last birthday cake? No matter how many candles were on your cake, you surely have less than your grandparents.


If you heard an alarm, what would you have called it back in the day?

Hearing an alarm or a signal back in your grandparents' day meant that you were hearing a tocsin. Tocsin is defined as an alarm, siren or bell that is used to grab attention.


What would Granny call any Christmas carolers who rang the doorbell?

Opening your door to a bunch of Christmas carolers meant that you were listening to waits sing. Spreading cheer everywhere they went, being a wait used to be a much more popular tradition.


Explore More Quizzes

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!