Test Your Old-Timey Vocabulary With This Quiz!


By: Ariana Perez

6 Min Quiz

Image: H. Armstrong Roberts / Retrofile RF / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Language has been the primary method of human communication throughout history. And as societies evolve and customs change, languages have been ever evolving and changing. 

Many of today's languages originate from common roots, including Latin and Greek, but the words sometimes lose their meaning as they travel from language to language. Have you ever heard of the expression “lost in translation”? It’s accurate. Just consider John F. Kennedy, who once mistakenly proclaimed in a speech that he was a jelly donut. Many words that originated in one language come to mean something completely different once they’ve gathered nuances from people, regions and such.

The English language is complicated, but it’s also funny. There are some great words that, for whatever reason, are no longer used today (but totally should be). Imagine how astute you would seem if you referred to jewelry as “bijoux”? Or if you referred to a fashionable and daring young man as a “buck”? Wouldn’t that be swell?

And perhaps you do use these words! If you are a fan of the English language who claims to know the dandiest ol’ English words, test your knowledge of old-timey vocabulary with this quiz! Prove that you are the cat's pajamas.

If your reply to a question is “peradventure,” what are you basically saying?

“Peradventure” was the old word for today’s standard (and more simplified) “perhaps.” The literal Anglo-French meaning is "by chance."


The hart, hind, hare, boar and wolf were known to be the “five wild beasts of venery.” What does “venery” mean?

"Venery" is the act or sport of hunting wild animals or game. It's related to the word "venison," from the Latin "venari," meaning "to hunt."


The rivers along the trade trails go through the snowy range ere they lead to the plains of China. What does “ere” mean?

“Ere” basically stands for "before" (in time). Therefore, in this sentence, the trade trails go through the snowy range before they lead to the Chinese plains. It is a Middle English word coming from Old English, similar to a High German word, "er," for "earlier."


What does it mean, to be “fain”?

“Fain” was the old word for today’s “willing.” It can be traced way back to an Old Norse word, "feginn," which simply meant "happy."


If someone's statement is “bunkum,” what is the problem?

“Bunkum" simply means nonsense. This word was coined in 1820 and was originally spelled “buncombe,” because a congressman representing Buncombe County, North Carolina, bored his colleagues with an irrelevant political speech. Imagine that!


What is an old-fashioned word for where you lay your head to rest at night?

Back in the day, a bedroom was referred to as a bedchamber. In earlier centuries, depending on your social status, you might have slept on mattresses that were stuffed with hay and broom straws, or mattresses that were stuffed with feathers (if you could afford this pricey item).


As a noun, what does “smite” mean?

The noun "smite" used to mean "a heavy blow." The verb "smite" is still used today, meaning "to strike with a heavy blow." One popular form of the verb can be rather poetic: if you are "smitten" with someone, you've been struck by love.


What does it mean to have “appetency”?

To have "appetency" means to have a longing or desire. It is a word that was used early in the 17th century and originated from the Latin word “appetentia,” meaning "appetite."


In the sentence “She, I ween, is the daughter of the baker,” what does “ween” mean?

When you ween, you think or suppose something but don’t know it for a fact. The verb is of Germanic origin, as in "wähnen,” which means “to imagine.”


Avaunt, once and for all! What does "avaunt" mean?

"Avaunt" was another way of saying “go away.” It originates from the Latin word "abante," which means "from before."


If you were taken to the “bedlam,” where were you going?

In years past, a "bedlam" was an asylum where mentally ill people were taken. These days, of course, "bedlam" simply means a state of chaos and confusion.


If your clothes are worth a “doit,” how much are they really worth?

If your clothes are worth a “doit,” then unfortunately they’re worth a very small amount of money. The word “doit” dates back to the 16th century, from the name of a Dutch coin.


What is a “grimalkin”?

"Grimalkin," believe it or not, was a word used back in the late 16th century to refer to a cat. The term derives from the color grey and “malkin,” an archaic word with several meanings (including a cat or a woman named Matilda or Maud). In Shakespeare's "Macbeth," a witch mentions the name "Graymalkin."


If you were known to be a “gudgeon,” what were you?

If were known to others as a "gudgeon," you could be easily fooled. Or perhaps you're a small European fish, since that's another meaning!


Hie, before they come and find you! What does “hie” mean?

"Hie" is an archaic word, meaning to go quickly, hurry or hasten. It is a Middle English word deriving from Old English "higian," meaning "to strive."


What’s a "kickshaw"?

A "kickshaw" referred to a fancy dish that did not make a satisfying meal. This word was used in the late 16th century and originates from the French phrase "quelque chose," which merely means "something."


If you were a "magdalene," what was your place in society?

If you were a "magdalene," you were a reformed prostitute. Mary Magdalene is the woman Jesus appeared to after his resurrection, according to the Bible.


If someone says an “orison,” what are they doing?

If someone says an orison, they’re saying a prayer (and hopefully, praying for your well-being). It originates from Old French “oreison,” coming from the Latin word “oratio,” meaning "speech" or "oration."


You’re a "peccant.” What does that mean?

If you’re a "peccant," you’re a sinful person or are someone who has committed a crime. This word originates from “peccare,” the Latin word meaning “to stumble” or "to sin."


“I was sent to speak old-timey words to you," quoth she. What does “quoth” mean?

“Quoth” means "said," especially used in the first or third person with the subject following. It is an archaic (and humorous) Middle English word, used since the 12th century.


If you were going to a “taiga,” where were you going?

If you were heading over to a taiga, you were going to a forest of high latitudes (likely in the north). This word was used in the 19th century and originates from Russian and Mongolian. Taiga look at that!


Vale, until we see each other again! How did people use “vale”?

“Vale” was a word many used to express a written or spoken farewell. This word comes from the Latin word “valere,” which literally translates into "be well" or "be strong."


“Zounds!,” said the officer. “How did this happen?” How was “zounds” used?

If the officer said, “zounds,” he was expressing surprise or indignation at what he had just heard or seen. “Zounds” was a word first used in the late 16th century; it is a contraction of "God's wounds." Who knew?


If you were a “doxy,” what were you known to be?

A lover or a mistress was often referred to as a “doxy” in the 16th century. It is a slang word of unknown origin. Oddly, "doxy" can also mean "opinion."


What does it mean when a woman is a “revolveress”?

This word used in the Victorian era, around 1855, was used to define a woman who uses a pistol. One may have said, "She's a great fighter, a revolveress who you don't want to mess with!"


You should be present at your wife's accouchement. What does “accouchement” mean?

“Accouchement” was the word used in the late 18th century for the process of giving birth. It originates from the French word "accoucher," which means to assist in delivery, and the Old French word “coucher,” which means to lay down or put to bed.


If someone is a "bibliopole," they have a lot of knowledge about what?

In the late 18th century, a bibliopole was someone who sold and purchased books, especially rare ones. It comes from a mix of Greek and Latin words that translate into "books" and "to sell" - hence, a bibliopole!


If you worked in a "caboose" that's not part of a train, where were you located?

Lucky you! If you worked in a caboose, that meant you worked in the kitchen of a ship’s deck. This word was used in the 18th century and originates from the Dutch word "kabuis," or ship’s storeroom.


What is a “camelopard”?

In late Middle English, giraffes were called camelopards (go figure). Next time you go to the zoo, make sure you scream “camelopard” loudly, and let them know you got it right and they’re wrong.


If you were a “damsel,” what were you?

If you were a damsel, then you were popular with the young fellas! A young, unmarried woman was often referred to as a damsel - whether or not she was in distress. It originates from the Old French word “damisele,” which comes from the Latin word “domina,” or "mistress."


The dress was covered in fandangles. What does “fandangle” mean?

A fandangle was a useless or purely ornamental thing, at least in the mid 19th century. It is believed to have originated from the word "fandango," which is a lively Spanish dance performed by a man and a woman.


If a woman is a "gammer," how old are they?

In the late 16th century, an old countrywoman was referred to as a "gammer," which, if you think about it, is kind of a cute name. Nothing wrong with being a gammer!


Child, you better harken to me! What does “harken” mean?

To "harken" or "hearken" meant to listen attentively. It comes from the Old English word “heorcnian.” The spelling with EA probably came about because of its association with the word “hear.”


If you were described as a “leman,” what were you?

Sigh, wouldn’t we all love to meet our dream "leman"? Be careful, though, because sometimes if you were a leman, you were an illicit lover, especially a mistress.


If you are an “otiose” person, what do you like doing?

If you are otiose, you are an indolent and idle person, at least in old-timey words. "Otiose" was a word used in the late 18th century that comes from the Latin word "otium," which translates into "leisure."


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