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14 Rare and Obsolete Terms That Deserve to Be Used More

Speaking English in the 21st century is very different from speaking the same language just a few centuries ago. Sure, there were plenty of inconvenient grammatical differences like extra endings and pronouns in earlier forms of English. But there was also a lot of fun to be had in terms of vocabulary, and we feel like modern English speakers may be missing out.
Over the centuries, so many eloquent and useful words fell out of use. Some of these terrific words describe entire activities and feelings we’d otherwise need a whole sentence for. We wish these 14 clever (but sadly obsolete) terms were used more often.

1. Matutolypea

Obsolete English Terms tired people
Pronounced as “meh-tyoo-teh-lie-pee-uh,” this term puts into words something we all experience from time to time, namely getting up on the wrong side of the bed. This phrase originated in Ancient Rome, and it’s a combination of the word Matuta, the Roman Goddess of the dawn, and the Greek word lype, which refers to grief. I don't know about you, but once I learn to pronounce it well, it’s definitely going to become part of my everyday vocabulary!

2. Ombibulous 

We all know how to call a person or animal that eats everything - omnivorous. But did you know that there’s also a specific word that describes a person who drinks everything? It's ombibulous. The pronunciation of this word is “om-bi-bu-luhs,” and it was coined by H.L. Mencken, a famous American satirist, journalist, and cultural critic. Mencken once wrote, “I am ombibulous. I drink every known alcoholic drink and enjoy them all.”

Related Article: 19 Delightful Old English Phrases That Should Return

3. Clinomania

Here’s another phrase most people will be able to relate to. If you’re feeling a strong desire to lie down or stay in bed, you’re having a case of clinomania. This word emerged in psychiatric papers of the late 19th century, with an 1890 article defining it as “the passion of staying in bed.” So, the next time you feel like sleeping in on the weekend, you have an official (and diagnosable) excuse.

4. Fimble-famble

Obsolete English Terms woman in bed

Speaking of excuses. Here’s a fun 19th-century slang term from Britain that helps you put a name to a really bad excuse. How do you use this one? Here’s an example sentence, “George’s excuse for not finishing his homework was a complete fimble-famble.”

5. Enchiridion

The words manual, handbook, and guide are all useful and understandable enough, but there’s a more fun way of referring to a book that contains essential knowledge on a specific subject. Just call it an enchiridion (pronounced as en-kee-ri-dee-uhn). This term was coined in Middle English around the 1540s, and it’s just a fancy synonym of a handbook.

6. Bumfodder

Toilet paper had a minute of fame in 2020. Funnily enough, this made us wonder what the previous generations, namely those who predated modern toilets and sewage systems called TP.

Obsolete English Terms toilet paper
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the 17th-century term for toilet paper was bumfodder. Yes, it’s that straightforward and definitely amusing. Over time, people also started calling bad or useless literature the same, pointing to the fact that the only beneficial function for the pages was using them as toilet paper. Being an unpopular writer in the past must have been terrible...

7. Yesk or yex

This outdated term was used to refer to any type of involuntary sound, be it a yawn, a hiccup, a sob, or even a belch. The interesting fact about this word is that it is one of those really old original English words. Yesk comes from the Old English verb ġeocsian or ġiscian, which meant "to hiccup," and it’s at least 1,300 years old.

8. Cachinnation

Are you a loud laugher? If so, you are someone who does a lot of cachinnation or loud laughter. Pronounced as “ka-
kuh-nei-shn,” this word was used in English since the 17th century. But originally, it comes from the Latin verb cachinnare, which means "to laugh loudly."
Obsolete English Terms loud speaker

 9. Breedbate

We all have that one person from high school or work that seems to always be fishing for conflict and arguments. Unfortunately, this type of people seems to be as old as time itself, since they had a word for that kind of behavior in English at least since the late 16th century. When someone is looking for an opportunity to start trouble, they were said to be a breedbate.

Related Article: 17 Fascinating Old Words That Deserve To Be Popular Again

10. Quakebuttock

What do you think of this fun word? The humorous word is used to describe a coward, it’s still used today, although very rarely. The first usage of quakebuttock dates back to the 17th century, and it was featured in the plays of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher.

11. Rechauffe

Even though people in the 15th didn’t have microwaves, they did have leftovers. How did they refer to leftover food, then? They used a French term, rechauffe, which means “to reheat or turn leftovers into a new dish.” Pronounced as “rey-shoh-fey,” the term refers both to the action of reheating leftovers and the leftover food itself. Calling your leftovers rechauffe makes them sound like some fancy French dish, doesn’t it?
Obsolete English Terms food in containers

12. Ditty

Any short and simple song can be called a ditty. The original 14th-century definition describes the word as any "short song or poem intended to be sung to a simple melody." Like the previous word on the list, ditty comes from Old French, namely the word ditie.

13. Zwodder

How would you describe that fuzzy, drowsy state of mind one experiences after a bad night’s sleep? People who speak the Somerset dialect of British English may say that they’re in a zwodder all day. Zwodder is yet another original English term that likely stems from the Old English verb swodrian that means “to get drowsy, fall asleep.”

14. Back-berend

As you may intuit yourself, back-berend has something to do with bearing something on the back, and that something is stolen goods. In Anglo Saxon law, handhabend and back-berend were two terms used to refer to a person who was caught stealing something. Linguists believe that this fascinating term exists in English since at least 1292, and it was taken from the Old English word bæc-berende that refers to the same crime.

So, the next time your dog runs off with your slipper, you can legitimately call him a back-berend!

Share these fun words with those who love learning about English!

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