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How Dare You Call Me a Snollygoster, You Pillock

Rare and Amusing Insults to Stupefy and Confound


helen-mirren-dont-be-a-pillock
Photo: via Budweiser

Definition

a very stupid or foolish person

About the word:

Pillock (which has also on occasion been spelled pilloch, pillok, and pillick) is one of the hundreds of euphemisms for the male sexual organ in the English language. The Oxford English Dictionary records the earliest known use of the word in 1568, and for several hundred years this was apparently the main sense of the word. However, begining in the late 20th century pillock took on another meaning, which is that of an idiot or fool of some sort. Both of these uses are almost entirely confined to British English, and the word has little currency in the United States.

Definition:

a boastful and self-important person; a strutting little fellow

About the word:

If cockalorum suggests a crowing cock, that's because cockalorum probably comes from kockeloeren - an obsolete Dutch dialect verb meaning "to crow."

Definition:

a fawning subordinate; a suck-up

About the word:

Lick plus spittle says it all: someone who licks another person's spit is pretty low indeed. Incidentally, lickspittle keeps company with bootlicker ("someone who acts obsequiously").

Definition:

an excessively faultfinding person

About the word:

The original Smelfungus was a character in an 18th century novel. Smelfungus, a traveler, satirized the author of Travels through France and Italy, a hypercritical guidebook of that time.

Definition:

an unprincipled but shrewd person

About the word:

The story of its origin remains unknown, but snollygoster was first used in the nasty politics of 19th century America. One definition of the word dates to 1895, when a newspaper editor explained "a snollygoster is a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles...."

Definition:

ninny; simpleton, fool

About the word:

The word ninny is probably a shortening and alteration of "an innocent" (with the "n" from "an" getting transferred to the noun) and "hammer" adds punch. Writers who have used the word include J.R.R. Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings trilogy: "You're nowt but a ninnyhammer, Sam Gamgee."

Definition:

a stubborn person who insists on making an error in spite of being shown that it is wrong

About the word:

Supposedly, this insult originated with an illiterate priest who said mumpsimus rather than sumpsimus ("we have taken" in Latin) during mass. When he was corrected, the priest replied that he would not change his old mumpsimus for his critic's new sumpsimus.

Definition:

an unmanly man; a mollycoddle (a pampered or effeminate boy or man)

About the word:

Milksop literally means "bread soaked in milk." Chaucer was among the earliest to use milksop to describe an unmanly man (presumably one whose fiber had softened). By the way, the modern cousin of milksop, milquetoast, comes from Caspar Milquetoast, a timid cartoon character from the 1920s.

Definition:

an awkward, gawky young man

About the word:

Hobbledehoy rhymes with boy: that's an easy way to remember whom this 16th century term insults. Its origin is unknown, although theories about its ancestry include hobble and hob (a term for "a clownish lout").

Definition:

shyster; a lawyer whose methods are underhanded or disreputable

About the word:

The petti part of this word comes from petty, meaning "insignificant" (from the French petit, "small").

As for fogger, it once meant "lawyer" in English. According to one theory, it may come from "Fugger," the name of a successful family of 15th- and 16th-century German merchants and financiers. Germanic variations of "fugger" were used for the wealthy and avaricious, as well as for hucksters.

Mooncalf
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Definition:

a foolish or absentminded person

About the word:

The original mooncalf was a false pregnancy, a growth in the womb supposedly influenced by a bad moon. Mooncalf then grew a sense outside the womb: simpleton. It also morphed into a literary word for a deformed monster. For instance, in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Stephano entreats Caliban, "Mooncalf, speak once in your life, if thou beest a good mooncalf."

Need more verbal ammunition? Don't miss our list of Charming Words for Nasty People




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