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Bumfuzzle, Cattywampus, Gardyloo & More

Top 10 Funny-Sounding & Interesting Words


Definition:

confuse; perplex; fluster

Example:

"Irish can bumfuzzle any team" – headline about the Notre Dame "Fighting Irish" football team, Chicago Tribune, October 27, 2002

About the Word:

Bumfuzzle may have begun as dumfound, which was then altered first into dumfoozle and then into bumfoozle. Dumfound (or dumbfound) remains a common word today, but bumfuzzle unfortunately is extremely rare.

Definition:

dialect : askew, awry, kitty-corner

Example:

"The points ... where [the two grids] would meet became Broadway and Colfax Ave. which is why to this day downtown Denver sits catty-wampus to the rest of the city." – Francis J. Pierson and Dennis J. Gallagher, Getting to Know Denver: Five Fabulous Walking Tours, 2006

About the Word:

Long ago English gamblers called the four-dotted side of a die cater (from the French quatre, "four"). The placement of those four dots suggested two diagonal lines, which is likely how cater came to mean (dialectally, anyway) "to place, move, or cut across diagonally."

Catercorner (later kitty-corner) and caterwampus –and eventually cattywampus –followed.

Definition:

used in Edinburgh as a warning cry when it was customary to throw slops from the windows into the streets

Example:

"Residents often threw refuse out of windows at night onto the streets. A commentator observed that, 'One never knew the moment when the warning cry 'Gardyloo'... might ring out, following which would come in quick succession an avalanche of unmentionable filth on to the footpath – or the passer-by.'" — Jonathan Yeager, Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine, 2011

About the Word:

Pity the visitor to Scotland unfamiliar with the practice of using what is most likely a French-based term (garde à l'eau! literally means "look out for the water!") when dumping slops into the streets.

Definition:

1 : a fib 2 : pretentious nonsense

Example:

"'We haven't got time to listen to more taradiddles, I'm afraid, Dumbledore.'" — Cornelius Fudge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling, 2004

About the Word:

There is a myth that taradiddle was born in the town of Taradiddle, Ireland; that itself is a taradiddle, because there is no such town.

We don't know where taradiddle (also spelled tarradiddle) comes from, but we do know that the word has been a favorite of writers ranging from Balzac to Trollope to G. K. Chesterton. Lyricist W. S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) used it in two operas.

Definition:

coarsely abusive language

Example:

"Modern billingsgate betrays puerile imbecility of pundits" — headline in the Rome (GA) News-Tribune, March 4, 2006

About the Word:

Since the 14th century, Billingsgate has been the name of a fish market in London, England – a fish market at one time notorious for its merchants' vulgar language.

We find an allusion to the merchants' crude talk in 16th century British chronicler Raphael Holinshed's description of a messenger's language, which he said was "as bad a tongue ... as any oyster-wife at Billingsgate."

Definition:

1 archaic : to engage in cut-and-thrust fighting with knives 2 : a large knife

Example:

"Oh, never shall I / Forget the cry, / Or the shriek that shrieked he, / As I gnashed my teeth, / When from its sheath / I drew my snickersnee!" — The Mikado by W. S. Gilbert

About the Word:

Snickersnee comes from the Dutch phrase steken of snijden, "to thrust or cut." Over time, snick and snee, snick-or-snee, and snickersnee followed.

Definition:

in a left-handed or contrary direction; counterclockwise

Example:

"And the waves beat upon the one hand, and upon the other the dead leaves ran; and the clouds raced in the sky, and the gulls flew widdershins." — Robert Louis Stevenson, The Song of the Morrow, 1896

About the Word:

English speakers got widdershins from an old German word meaning "to go against," and by the mid-1500s we were using the word as we use it today – as a synonym for counterclockwise.

For the first 200 years of the word's life, however, it had another meaning as well – it was used to describe that particular kind of bad hair day when unruly hair stands on end or simply falls the wrong way.

Definition:

pain in the abdomen and especially in the stomach; a bellyache

Example:

"... unfortunately I awoke this morning with collywobbles, and had to take a small dose of laudanum with the usual consequences of dry throat, intoxicated legs, partial madness and total imbecility..." — Robert Louis Stevenson, Vailima Letters, 1890-1894

About the Word:

Etymologist believe that collywobbles most likely has its origin in cholera morbus, the Latin term for the disease cholera (the symptoms of which include severe gastrointestinal disturbance).

How would cholera morbus have shifted into collywobbles? By folk etymology – a process in which speakers make an unfamiliar term sound more familiar. In this case, the transformation was probably influenced by the words colic and wobble.

Definition:

dialect Britain : fish parings or refuse; broadly : any bits and pieces

Example:

"The biggest change is that the new iMac takes on some of the design ethos of the old eMac from all those years ago, featuring a bulbous back plate that hides all the gubbins but tapers down to an incredibly thin 5mm edge." – Stuart Miles, Pocket-lint.com, October 23, 2012

About the Word:

Gubbins originates in the language of cooking. Its ancestry includes words meaning paring, portion, and gobbet (meaning morsel).

Diphthong
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Definition:

two vowel sounds joined in one syllable to form one speech sound, e.g. the sounds of "ou" in out and of "oy" in boy

Example:

"A glitch refers to some piece of technology's failure to do something it's intended to do. But Siri is doing exactly what it was built to do…. Siri would have an actual glitch if it couldn't understand diphthongs or something." — Damon Poeter, PC Magazine, December 1, 2011

About the Word:

Evoking the dual nature of diphthongs themselves, the word diphthong retains the two parts in its Greek ancestor diphthongos: di- meaning "two" and phthongos meaning "sound" or "voice."

The word is a bit strange-looking to English speakers, a fact reflected in the two pronunciations the word has, one with a first syllable of /dif/ and one with a first syllable of /dip/.




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