How Much Vocabulary From the Middle Ages Do You Know?

By: Isadora Teich
Image: YouTube

About This Quiz

The Middle Ages, also known as the Medieval Period, were a time of tremendous upheaval in Europe. Kingdoms rose and fell on a dime and no throne was considered fashionable if it didn't have at least half a dozen claimants on it. Still, technology moved relatively slowly, which meant that life didn't change too much day to day for most people, who lived their entire lives in and around a single town.

However, a quiet but seismic change was taking place. A wondrous new machine called a printing press was created that took literacy out of the hands of the nobility and the clergy and began the slow but inexorable process of democratizing the written word. No more did people have to wait months for a monk to draw them up a Bible: they could just buy one. People who would have never learned to read before began to do so - and of course, once they could read, they wanted to write.

That meant there was a sudden explosion of words, as people documented what they thought and heard. Standardized spelling was non-existent and vocabulary differed from region to region, making Middle English a mishmash of dialects and idioms. Some great writers managed to capture some of the finest of these words and immortalize them for us, and the very best of the words they plucked from the air are still with us. Let's see if you know them!


What does hither mean?

Someone in the Middle Ages would tell someone they wanted to come closer to "Come hither." Hither simply means here.

If you are eating lubber-word, what are you eating?

Lubber-word referred to food of no nutritional value, what would be considered junk food by today's standards. For example, Flamin' Hot Cheetos are lubber-word.

What does bellytimber refer to?

Bellytimber was a medieval term for food. It could refer to anything eaten at any time of day.

Someone who is a whiteliver is a:

Calling someone yellow-bellied is understood today, even if it is outdated. Whiteliver predates that expression.

If someone is carked, they are:

Someone who is carked is incredibly anxious. They will probably be jittery, scattered and otherwise feel terrible.

What is a fopdoodle?

Fopdoodle is a popular medieval insult. It means simpleton.

What is an earthapple?

In medieval slang, an earthapple could have been either a cucumber or a potato. This might be related to the French "la pomme de terre," which literally translates to "the apple of the earth" but means potato.

Who would give a kerchief-of-pleasance to a knight?

These embroidered cloths were given by ladies to the knights of their choice. The knight would then be bound by his code of honor to wear it on his helmet.

If someone is straight-fingered, they are __________.

A straight-fingered person would be completely honest. Medieval people would have considered them trustworthy.

If someone asks "Where is the privy?" where do they want to go?

In medieval language, the privy refers to the bathroom. Back during those days, that might have been a chamber pot or a bench toilet.

Maw-wallop refers to:

Maw-wallop refers to a poorly cooked mess of food. There's almost always at least one dish that's complete maw-wallop at holiday parties.

A sloomy person is:

If a medieval person called someone sloomy, they did not think highly of them. A sloomy person would have been dull and lazy.

What is a fizgig?

A fizgig is a medieval insult. Ridiculous and useless people were often called fizgigs, but it was usually applied to women.

What is a tipsycake?

A tipsycake was is a wine-soaked cake. The cake would traditionally be covered in almonds and served with custard.

If a woman is wearing a bubble-bow, what has she got on?

Medieval pocketbooks were not a lot like the sleek zippered designer purses and clutches of today. Ladies of status carried these bags.

What is a ringo?

More famously known as the drummer of The Beatles, ringo also refers to an old candy that dates back to the middle ages. This sweet is made of candied sea holly root.

If someone is quetching, they are:

Someone who is quetching would have been in a lot of pain. This word specifically refers to someone being in so much pain that they moan and twitch.

If someone is a bedswerver, they are:

This word was used to describe those who cheated on their spouses. Yes, this happened even in medieval Europe.

A tuzzy-muzzy is a collection of:

What is called a bouquet today, medieval people would have called a tuzzy-muzzy. These could refer to a bunch of any flowers.

What would someone do after yelling a gardyloo?

There was no plumbing in the Middle Ages. This led to people throwing the waste water from their chamberpots and other household tasks right out of their window. A gardyloo was the warning cry they would give before tossing their wastewater out the window.

Bell-penny refers to money a person would save for their:

Having to pay for funeral services throughout history has led to some being buried in luxurious tombs and others in unmarked mass graves. During the Middle Ages, the money you were saving for your own funeral would be your bell-penny.

A teenful person is:

If someone in the Middle Ages called another person teenful, they would have found them incredibly irritating. This could be applied to a person of any age.

What does it mean to kiss the hare's foot?

This phrase meant to be very late for dinner. A person would be so late they would either miss dinner entirely or only get scraps.

What does it mean to dringle?

To dringle means to waste time in a particularly lazy manner. A mother might tell her children to "stop dringling."

If someone is telling you to be "Hoful," they are telling you to be:

The world of the Middle Ages was full of dangers. From bandits and raids from enemy fiefs to the black plague, there was a lot to contend with. To be hoful meant to be careful.

If you are feeling the mubblefubbles, how do you feel?

Mubblefubbles refers to a sense of melancholy. No one likes to feel the mubblefubbles.

If someone has a nose of wax, they are:

Someone with a nose of wax changes their mind so often that it's hard to predict or rely on them. It refers to a fickle personality.

Who might have been called a poplolly in the Middle Ages?

Poplolly could have been used as an affectionate pet name for a woman of any age. It could also refer to a man's mistress.

If someone is looking at the scrow, what are they looking at?

Scrow is a medieval word for sky. It's fallen out of use since.

If you are drinking Adam's Ale, what are you drinking?

This was a medieval joke. It refers to Adam and Eve, who drank water.

If someone is turngiddy they are ___________.

Someone who was turngiddy was dizzy. With malnutrition and illness running rampant in the Middle Ages there could be many causes of feeling turngiddy.

What does ug refer to?

Ug refers to a feeling of fear or dread. It's not a pleasant feeling.

What is a cruck house?

During the dark ages, peasants lived in cruck houses. These houses had wooden frames with wattle and daub plastered to make the walls and roof. Wattle and daub was a mixture of mud, manure and straw.

If you have a smelly okselle, what do you have?

In medieval slang, armpits could be referred to as okselles. There was a lot of interesting body-related slang back then.

If someone is pitchkettled, they are:

Someone who is pitchkettled is incredibly puzzled. If someone is a fopdoodle, or stupid, they might be pitchkettled regularly.

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