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Academics uncover 30 words 'lost' from English language

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Jodie Whittacker in the BBC series “Trust Me” – the story of a “Quacksalver”

If someone were to accuse you of being “snout-fair” would you be pleased or offended?

What about being described as “dowsabel” or as a “percher”?

These are among 30 lost English words uncovered by experts at the University of York that they believe still have a use today.

Dominic Watt, senior lecturer in Language and Linguistic Science at the university, said he hoped people would re-engage with the language of old.

The researchers have drawn up the list in an effort to persuade people that these defunct words can still have a relevance.

The team spent three months searching through old books and dictionaries to create the list.

  • Nickum A cheating or dishonest person

  • Peacockize To behave like a peacock; esp. to pose or strut ostentatiously

  • Rouzy-bouzy Boisterously drunk

  • Ruff To swagger, bluster, domineer. To ruff it out / to brag or boast of a thing

  • Tremblable Causing dread or horror; dreadful

  • Awhape To amaze, stupefy with fear, confound utterly

Mr Watt wants to bring these words back into modern conversations.

“We’ve identified lost words that are both interesting and thought-provoking, in the hope of helping people re-engage with language of old,” he said.

“Snout-fair”, for example, means “having a fair countenance; fair-faced, comely, handsome”, while “sillytonian” refers to “a silly or gullible person, esp one considered as belonging to a notional sect of such people”.

“Dowsabel” is “applied generically to a sweetheart, ‘lady-love'”.

Margot Leadbetter, the snobby neighbour from 1970s BBC sitcom, The Good Life, could be seen as an arch example of a “percher” – someone “who aspires to a higher rank or status; an ambitious or self-assertive person”.

The BBC series Trust Me is the story of a “quacksalver” – a person who “dishonestly claims knowledge of, or skill in, medicine; a pedlar of false cures”.

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Joey Essex: “Snout-fair” to some, to others a “sillytonian”

The list of 30 “lost words” are grouped into three areas the researchers feel are relevant to modern life: post-truth (deception); appearance, personality and behaviour; and emotions.

The final list also includes the words “ear-rent” – described as “the figurative cost to a person of listening to trivial or incessant talk”, “slug-a-bed” – meaning “a person who lies in late”, and “merry-go-sorry” – a phrase used to describe “a mixture of joy and sorrow”.

Written by David Figo in September 15, 2017
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