While it’s still summer, let’s take some time to explore some of the fun and funnier words in our English language. You know those words that just tickle your tongue and make you wonder, where in the world did that originate? OK, maybe I’m the only one who asks that, but here goes with a starter list of words that bring a smile to my lips.
- Gadzooks – Gadzooks is just one of many words that are variations on or euphemisms for what were originally oaths or cuss words. Back in the 1600s gadzooks was a more palatable form of an expression that closely paralleled “God’s hooks” or “God’s hocks”, a reference to the nails of Christ’s cross. Since swearing was frowned upon, people being people, found more socially acceptable ways to express anger and frustration. Gadzooks was one of those. Zounds is a closely related term—a tamer version of God’s wounds. Apparently humanity has been taking God’s name and character in vain for hundreds of years.
- Cockalorum – If you’ve spotted a root word here—cock—and can extrapolate a meaning from that, you’re on the right track. The term originates in Middle English where cock, in addition to being a euphemism for God, was associated with rooster. One who “crows” about himself like a rooster is said to have cockalorum. Cockalorum is the Scottish variation of the Dutch kockeloeren and refers to someone who is full of themselves, a boastful, self-important person.
- Poppycock – poppycock is probably the most vulgar term I ever heard my mother utter. It sounded pretty tame and funny to me as a kid. Much tamer than the barnyard language that was an accepted part of farm life. Little did I realize just how vulgar my mother’s expression was until reading The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson. Since our ancestry is Dutch, I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that poppycock is a Dutch expression. I’m pretty sure my mother didn’t know its literal meaning—soft dung. If she had she might have gone a little easier on us with the barnyard language.
- Highfalutin or hifalutin – By now you’ve probably figured out that I’m neither. Very few Midwesterners are, excuse the vast generalization. In fact, highfaluting is one of those uniquely American frontierisms. In the process of western movement across the United States there wasn’t much room or time for formalities and protocol. Charging someone with being highfaluting drew on the image of a flutist marching proudly in a parade, chin high, tooting away. Though as a former flautist, I don’t really have a problem with that image, apparently frontiersman didn’t cater to such things and called out anyone who appeared too big for their britches as highfalutin.
In another era some of these words would be expletives, what we consider swear words today. But in the original Latin explere was simply a technique poets used to fill out a line of verse. It was Sir Walter Scott who first used expletive in the sense of an oath or curse word, and the transcripts of Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes that popularized the term and gave us its current meaning. I leave it to you to determine if your word choices are earthy or euphemisms.