Forgotten English Words

All languages evolve and change, and English is no exception. Even today, the language is changing in ways we never thought possible (selfie, anyone?). As such, there is a treasure trove of interesting antiquated words which, for one reason or another, have fallen out of favour with the English-speaking masses. Author Jeffrey Kacirk digs out some of these gems. We like to imagine he dusted some really old and musty tomes to uncover these archaic terms!

1. Eye-Servant

When I was serving my National Service, one of the most common terms we threw about was “eye power” – a sarcastic remark intended for someone who watched idly while his friends toiled and got work done. As it turns out, lackadaisical attitudes transcend cultures and centuries! “Eye Servant” describes a servant who performed his duties perfunctorily except when his master was around. As the colloquial “eye power” is limited to a military context, may we suggest replacing servant and master with employee and manager and bring this handy phrase back?

2. Flitterwochen

English is a West Germanic language that came from the amalgamation of related dialects, now collectively termed Old English. Students of literature, when they encounter a text like Beowulf, often remark upon the text’s uncanny resemblance to German. When I first saw this word, I thought it had to be a German word. Alas, it is an Old English expression which literally means ‘fleeting weeks’. The word was used to describe a honeymoon. Poetic aptness aside, I am of the firm belief that everything sounds better in German or its closely-related cousin.

3. Mumpsimus

According to Kacirk, this Middle English word originally referred to an incorrigible, dogmatic old pedant (how specific!), but evolved to mean an incorrect opinion that someone clung to. My long-cherished belief in the beauty of German might be considered a mumpsimus, but at least I’m not incorrigible, dogmatic or old and pedantic!

4. Piggesnye

Moving on to Chaucer’s time, the author of The Canterbury Tales coined this word to refer to a sweetheart. It is said to come from the phrase, “pig’s eye”, however, and I cannot bear any responsibility for what happens to anyone who tries to use this term of endearment on their significant other. Much better to stick to German alternatives like “Zaubermaus” (Magic Mouse) or “Gummibärchen” (Gummy Bear), don’t you think?