whiffle image

There’s a little-known way to address people whose name you can’t remember, you can call them shaggledick. When she’s not being a diva, Aretha Franklin practices tyromancy, the expression for predicting the future by watching cheese curdle. These are among the bizarre, rarely-used words in the English language that feature in a curious new book called The Wonder of Whiffling. We also like Growlery (a place to growl in, often applied to a sitting room); Blatteroon (a person who will not stop talking); and Badonkadonk (buttocks of exceptional quality and bounce). The author Adam Jacot de Boinod, describes himself as a “linguistic bowerbird” (a person who collects an astonishing array of – sometimes useless – objects). He hopes the book will make people more articulate. The author sent us his favourite words:

Adam Jacot de Boinod’s wondrous wiffle:

gulch (Newfoundland English 1895) to frequent a sheltered hollow for sexual intimacy

exhibition meal (Hobo slang) a handout eaten on the doorstep: the madam wants the neighbours to witness her generosity

spanghew (1781) a cruel custom among lads of blowing up a frog by inserting a straw into its anus; the inflated frog was then jerked into the middle of the pond by being put on a cross stick, the other end being struck, so that the frog jumped high into the air

noop (Scott: Heart of Midlothian 1818) the sharp point of the elbow

grille-peerer – one of a group of clergymen in the 1940s who used to haunt the stacks of the London Library to look up the skirts of women browsing above

handbags at ten paces (US slang 1991) a verbal spat, usually between athletes on the field of play

feague (slang b1811) to put ginger up a horse’s fundament, and formerly, as it is said, a live eel, to make him lively and carry his tail well

witches’ knickers (Irish slang 2000) shopping bags caught in trees, flapping in the wind

cochel (Sussex dialect) too much for a wheelbarrow but not enough for a cart

ostrobogulous (1951) unusual, bizarre, interesting

petrichor (1964) the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell

juck-cum-peng (Jamaican English 1943) imitating the sound made by a wooden-legged person walking


Thanks to Ellie for this story. Ellie is a self-confessed Pozzy-Wallah, (someone who is inordinately fond of jam). Her particular favourite is rhubarb and ginger on not too crunchy toast.


One Response to “Shaggledick”

  1. is there a word for wathcing a TV series on dvd loads of episodes in a sitting? if not please can we invent one and track it as it becomes common parlance? something like to box (as in to watch from a box set) or gorge. so we get : ” what are you doing tonight?” “nuffink. im just going home and gorging Lost” or ” I boxed out on 24 – did the whole first series in real time, 24 episodes in 24 hours”

    oh, and my favourite obscure word, “tockle” verb, to lean back on 2 legs of a chair. (as in parents shouting at kids to stop tockling or theyll break the chair

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