Please join me in enjoying a few carefully chosen, not terribly disgusting put-downs -- putdowns for lightweights.
A blighter is a contemptible fellow, one as terrible as a disease, a parasite, one who inspires blight. Though blighter, which came to the language in 1822, clearly comes from the word blight, which entered the language in the early 1600s, the origins of blight are unknown. Some etymologists lean toward an Old Norse origin of a word meaning to become pale (blikna). Others have suggested it may be a form of the Old English word blaece,a scrofulous skin condition.
I have ignorantly always assumed the put-down cretin voiced someone’s negative opinion of the people of Crete. Wrong. Cretin, a slight against someone’s intelligence, actually comes from the Swiss French word crestin, which meant Christian. Apparently, somewhere in the Alpines there was a high incidence of a thyroid condition that severely limited its victims’ mental and physical growth. By a fluke, the region also happened to be the home to the earlier Christians in the area, thus the connection.
During World War II, the term dirtbag was used to refer to the garbage collector. In time, the term extended to refer to a filthy, vile, sleazy, grimy, or disreputable person.
Flibbertigibbet entered English in the 1540s, and referred to a flighty, chattering gossip. It comes from the earlier term flibergib, which referred to the gossip or nonsense itself.
Experts agree that freak seems to have shown up in the 1560s, originally meaning a sudden turn of mind. A short list of “proposed” origins follows:
-from Old English frician, to dance
-from Middle English freike, a bold man, warrior or
-from Middle English frek, bold, quick
-from Proto-Germanic, freko, active, eager man,
warrior or wolf
-from Old English frec, greedy or gluttonous
Today, a frump is a dull, cross & unstylish person. Frump came to English in 1600s meaning a sneer, jeer or hoax, probably from the noun frumple, a wrinkle.
I have hopes that this probable source is true, as I love the idea of a word meaning wrinkle referring to each of those three very separate ideas: a sneer, a jeer, & a hoax.
Dear followers, I’m certain you’d never use such words on living, breathing, people. Still, I'm hoping you'll have something to say about these words' origins.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Etymonline, & Wordnik, & Hugh Rawson’s book Wicked Words
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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