Lost For Old Words

It became clear to me that I sometimes use outdated phrases or words at work when a younger employee asked me to explain the expression ‘looking a gift horse in the mouth’. This involved a discussion about why the teeth of livestock were related to their value, and to further explain that a buyer might be inclined to look at mouths during a livestock sale. 

Another expression I used that resulted in a stunned expression was ‘Aha! Hoist by his own petard!’   When I also said something wasn’t worth ‘spoiling the ship for a ha’porth of tar’, even I knew I was starting to sound eccentric.   

I love discovering interesting words and phrases from another era, so I was delighted to be handed a copy of Lost Words by Joe Gillard. Joe has kindly offered up a range of words that he believes deserve a comeback and I have extracted a few choice ones that can be used in the workplace.    

For example, who has not received a report or document that was pure amphigory, a piece of writing that appears to have meaning, but is foolish nonsense? Wouldn’t it be nicer to call it amphigory, rather than mumble ‘this is crap from start to finish’?  Perhaps it was written by a sciolist, one who pretends to be knowledgeable on subjects. 

Anyone of us can feel despondent if we are forced to listen to a tortiloquy, an immoral or dishonest speech delivered invariably by a snollygoster, a dishonest, corrupt manager? 

Have you ever had to put up with a colleague who likes to pingle (work in a useless and unhelpful way) or an eyeservant, who works only when someone is watching?  It could be worse. You might have an entire office where people love to fudgel, pretending to work without producing anything. Australians have always been fond of the term bludger, but I’d like to see fudgling pinglers get off the ground.   

You may not be a saint yourself. It’s possible you inspect the clock too often in the hope that it is quafftide, or time for a drink, so that you can escape with your mates and tope, or drink to excess.  Or do you just head for home feeling utterly quanked and ramfeezled, exhausted from working hard.

Modern open plan offices are partly to blame for widespread Aprosexia, a complete inability to focus or concentrate due to a distracted or wandering mind. How interesting to know that this feeling was identified long ago. And who has not experienced sonntagsleerung, that depression one feels on a Sunday before the week begins?

Here’s a suggestion. Invite your boss to a causerie, or informal chat, and flatter or honeyfuggle your way into negotiating some improvement in your working hours. Explain that you are experiencing uhtceare, lying awake and feeling anxious. Of course, you risk being dismissed as a fopdoodle, or insignificant fool. You may even feel like a complete ninnyhammer, but you must hope your boss is not a smatchet, an ill-mannered despicable sort. He or she may well be overly nice, and you might even thank them for being an absolute prickmedainty, but I probably wouldn’t say that one out loud.    

Have you been accused of using outdated language at work, or referencing something that no longer exists, like the telex?  Do you think there are workplace words or phrases that deserve a comeback? I’d love to know.  

5 thoughts on “Lost For Old Words”

  1. As my mother might say, “good night shirt!” – this was a great piece. Thank you for sharing.
    I can just hear my dad saying, “what in the Sam Hill is this all about?” As we loose these old sayings, they are replaced by lol, lmao, and idk. Sad, that.
    Again, enjoyed this immensely. “Bloody hell Murdoch!”

  2. Wonderful piece…and as if prompted, I have listed words from very recent history that I would love to be fully restored into our literary world and every day conversation (some of which are probably very apt at this moment in our history;
    1. Gibberish
    2. Nonchalant
    3. Impertinent (always a killer blow in any statement to someone – the word has so much authority, even if the recipient doesn’t understand the meaning!!)
    4.. Insolent
    5. Impudent (one that should form party of every statement in our current news quite frankly!!)

    I am minded of a phrase that my late father would use, regarding someone’s absolute managerial incompetence…”this chap wouldn’t even make First Mate on a Thames winkle barge!”

    I sincerely hope that none of us feel crapulous after this weekend – its another long week in the world of ‘lockdown’ and we need all of our energy and spirits…

    Keep em’ coming Cheryl!

  3. Cheryl
    Great work – reminds me of when I was recently talking to my 20yo niece about a certain topic when I said “that’ll be the litmus test.”…she looked at me as if I suddenly started speaking a different language. Several minutes later I think she understood what I meant !!

  4. This made me laugh! I once despaired of a strategy at work and declared if we continued we’d be ‘going to hell in a handbasket’, receiving blank looks from the mixed young/non-Anglo team!

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