24 September 2009

Language quiz

As a teaser for a new book ("The Wonder of Whiffling"), the Guardian today has posted a quiz about exotic words in the English language. Here are the ten questions; to access the answers you'll need to visit the link.

1. What does broggle – coined in 1653 – mean?

2. What is the job of a fottie?

3. How was a pimple referred to in Tudor-Stuart days?

4. What are you doing if you are snoaching (coined in 1387)?

5. What is a clitherer?

6. What 15th-century term means a hornless cow - and thus, a fool?

7. What might you be doing if you were snirtling?

8. How would you have been described in the 16th century if you were a dandy?

9. What is blepharospasm?

10. What might you have been doing in the 16th century if you “felt as if a cat had kitten’d in one’s mouth”?

I knew one and guessed three. It's quite reminiscent of the game "Balderdash."


  1. Hmmm. 4 correct, but pretty much by guessing.

  2. ok, your a busy celeb now, but your semantics posts have piqued my interest to the point where I must ask if you can recommend a fun etymological dictionary...I'm looking specifically for my ex-roomate's dictionary that defined "rum" originating from the romany for "good" or "man" in turn deriving from sanskrit "doma" for "man" or "house" ---thank you very much I love your blog

  3. Bingo, I use the OED and the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, but I don't have any specific books on etymology.

    Random House does define "rum" as from Gypsy, related to "Rom" and secondarily from Sanskrit "doma" etc but this is for the second meaning of "rum" - not the drink but the word meaning odd, strange ("that was a rum thing that happened...").

    Perhaps someone reading this blog can suggest a good book for you, or you could go to a site like Language Log (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/) and pose your question there.



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