Peculiarities (See copyright notice.)

-- odd words or words with odd definitions

References include (1913 Webster's), the 1911 Webster's unabridged, as well as the online edition at Merriam-Webster's web site and the 1973 Webster's Collegiate.

Where question marks appear, I have misplaced my source (or, in some cases, my reason for including the word).

antimony -- stibnite {1911; the 1913 edition tells us a bit more: By ancient writers, and some moderns, the term is applied to native gray ore of antimony, or stibnite (the stibium of the Romans, and the sti`mmi of the Greeks, a sulphide of antimony, from which most of the antimony of commerce is obtained.

ben and but -- respectively, the inner and outer rooms of a two-room cottage, usually in Scotland {summary -- 1973 and 1911}

bend dexter and bend sinister -- in heraldry, the slant (down and left or down and right, respectively) -- bend sinister implies bastardy {summary -- 1973 and 1911}

bimbo -- a kind of Cognac punch {exact -- 1911 (word is missing from 1913 and 1973)}

boodle -- a collection or lot of persons {excerpt 1973}

bundobust -- settlement [bundobust -- settlement [< Hindi] {summary-- 1911}

burgoo -- oatmeal gruel {excerpt -- 1973}

Butcher's broom, a plant (Ruscus aculeatus) of the Smilax family, used by butchers for brooms to sweep their blocks; called also knee holly. See Cladophyll. {1913}

calico -- A woman; a girl, womankind. Dial. U.S. {5th meaning --1911}

clew -- a round bunch, as of worms {excerpt - 1911}

creeping myrtle -- the periwinkle (Vinca minor) {not listed in 1973, but the 1913 edition may explain why: "The name is also popularly but wrongly applied in America to two creeping plants, the blue-flowered periwinkle and the yellow- flowered moneywort.} The online version [1999] explains that crape myrtle (dating from 1850) is an Asian shrub (Lagerstroemia indica) of the loosestrife family widely grown in warm regions for its flowers, also known as crepe myrtle or crêpe myrtle.

didapper -- a dabchick or other small grebe {exact -- 1973; 1913 edition shows "divedapper" with a reference to dabchick.}

dildo -- a meaningless word used in the refrains of popular songs. Obs. "Delicate burthens of dildos and fadings." Shakespeare {exact -- 1911}. By the 1913 edition, the word took on another meaning: (Dil"do), n. (Bot.) A columnar cactaceous plant of the West Indies (Cereus Swartzii).

hyoscyamus/hyoscyamine -- [from Greek hys+kyamos = swine-bean] a poisonous counterclockwise alkaloid found in henbane and belladonna {summary -- 1973 (not present in 1913)}

huggermugger -- secret or confused {summary -- 1973}

lactucarium -- inspissated lettuce sometimes used as a substitute for opium {1911 and 1913; not listed -- 1973}.

Puddock -- n. [For paddock, or parrock, a park.] A small inclosure. [Written also purrock.] [Prov. Eng.] {exact -- 1913}

shrove -- shrift -- shrive -- receive confession {excerpt -- 1911}. The 1913 edition gives also: " to impose penance or punishment" and the following:

(Shrove"tide`) n. [From shrive to take a confession (OE. imp. shrof, AS. scraf) + tide.] The days immediately preceding Ash Wednesday, especially the period between the evening before Quinguagesima Sunday and the morning of Ash Wednesday.

Quinquagesima Sunday, the Sunday which is the fiftieth day before Easter, both days being included in the reckoning; called also Shrove Sunday.

Shakespeare used the term in "A pancake for Shrove Tuesday." Shak.

smeliche -- smoothly {excerpt -- 1911; word is absent in 1913}

stramonium -- the white thornapple {summary -- 1911}; dried jimsonweed (Jamestown, VA) leaves {summary -- 1973}; also known as stinkweed {1913}.

Swale -- v. i. & t. To melt and waste away; to singe. {1913} See Sweal, v.

sweal - to melt and run down as the tallow of a candle; hence to waste away {excerpt -- 1911}

wimple -- (Wim"ple), a cloth covering for the head; v. i. To lie in folds; also, to appear as if laid in folds or plaits; to ripple; to undulate. (excerpt -- 1913)

Wincopipe -- (Win"co*pipe) n. (Bot.) A little red flower, no doubt the pimpernel, which, when it opens in the morning, is supposed to bode a fair day. See Pimpernel. (exact -- 1913; not present, 1999, in online edition)


Who would have imagined? -- words with surprising etymologies

alcohol [< Greek] powdered antimony {summary -- 1973}

asbestos [< Greek] unslaked lime [a + sbennynai (-unquenchable)] {summary -- 1973}

awkward -- [< Old English = afoc (turned backwards) + ward) {1911, probably; the 1913 edition adds: . Awkward has a special reference to outward deportment. A man is clumsy in his whole person, he is awkward in his gait and the movement of his limbs. Clumsiness is seen at the first view. Awkwardness is discovered only when a person begins to move. Hence the expressions, a clumsy appearance, and an awkward manner. When we speak figuratively of an awkward excuse, we think of a want of ease and grace in making it; when we speak of a clumsy excuse, we think of the whole thing as coarse and stupid. We apply the term uncouth most frequently to that which results from the want of instruction or training; as, uncouth manners; uncouth language. }

Bizarre (Bi*zarre") a. [F. bizarre odd, fr. Sp. bizarro gallant, brave, liberal, prob. of Basque origin; cf. Basque bizarra beard, whence the meaning manly, brave.] {excerpt -- 1913}

change -- [< Latin = cambiare (to exchange) but akin to Old Irish = camm (crooked -- cf. Campbell) and Greek = skambos (crooked) {summary -- 1973}

edge -- [< Old English, but cognate to "acme" < Greek] {summary -- 1973} Frenchmen {?}

gawk -- to stare like a gawk {1911 lists only the noun; 1913 lists v. i. To act like a gawky.}

goofy {1911 lists neither goof nor goofy as entries, though the 1913 contains "Gove n. [Also goaf, goof, goff.] A mow; a rick for hay. [Obs.] Tusser.; the online version [1999] shows the term having an entry date into English of 1921}

hearse -- a harrowlike triangular frame bearing candles {excerpt --1911; though the modern meaning apparently dates from antiquity}

hippopotamus [< Greek (river horse -- cf. walrus)]

itch {?} Baker's itch. See under Baker. - - Barber's itch, sycosis. Bricklayer's itch, an eczema of the hands attended with much itching, occurring among bricklayers. Grocer's itch, an itching eruption, being a variety of eczema, produced by the sugar mite (Tyrogluphus sacchari). Itch insect (Zoöl.), a small parasitic mite (Sarcoptes scabei) which burrows and breeds beneath the human skin, thus causing the disease known as the itch. See Illust. in Append. Itch mite. (Zoöl.) Same as Itch insect, above. Also, other similar mites affecting the lower animals, as the horse and ox. Sugar baker's itch, a variety of eczema, due to the action of sugar upon the skin. Washerwoman's itch, eczema of the hands and arms, occurring among washerwomen.

stibnite [ < French < Latin < Greek < Egyptian = stb (antimony) (prior to 200 AD)] {summary -- 1973}

testicle [< Latin (witness)] {summary -- 1973} Compare 'avocado' which comes to us from Nahua via Spanish.

tithe -- the tenth part of anything {excerpt --1911}

tobacco -- [Sp. tabaco, fr. the Indian tabaco the tube or pipe in which the Caribs smoked this plant. Some derive the word from Tabaco, a province of Yucatan, where it was said to be first found by the Spaniards; others from the island of Tobago, one of the Caribees. But these derivations are very doubtful.] {exact -- 1911}

tractor -- that which draws or is used in drawing; specifically a traction engine (a locomotive for drawing vehicles on the highways or in the fields. {summary--1911}

Vettones -- Basque? {?}

walk [< Old English = wealcan (to roll); cognate to Latin =valgus (bowlegged)] {summary -- 1973}

walrus [< Dutch akin to Anglo Saxon hors-hwael (horse-whale)] {summary--1911}

window [< Old Norse akin to Old English = wind + eage (wind-eye)]{summary - 1973}


surprising cognates -- words sharing a common etymological root

(All from 1973 unless otherwise noted)

{astonish, thunder}

{walk, vagrant}

{twist, twine, two}

{know, cognition, agnostic}

{fat, pituitary}

{putative, pave}

{tone, thin, tenuous

{wish, win, venus}

{wise, wit, witness, vision}

{will, voluntary, volition, voluptuous}

{wile, witch, victim}

{wail, woe}

{werwolf, virile}

{wag, way, wain}

{waist, wax}

{waffle, weave}

{wait, watch, wake}

{tongue, language}

{thumb, thousand, tumescent, thigh}

{think, thank}

{wane, want, vain}

{carve, graph}

{joke, jeopardy, jewel, juggler} (1911)


fairly old French words that came from Anglo-Saxon or other Germanic sources

(l'Academe Francaise should probably put these on the non-non-liste)


bateau < boat

guerre < war

vagrant < walk

bordello < board (from Old French via Italian)


fairly old English words of surprising origin pistol (Slavic)


cognates shared by Sanskrit, Germanic or Slavic, but not known (by me) to exist in Latin or Greek roof -- krupa (Russian)

wax -- vashas (Lithuanian)

thorn -- trna (Sanskrit)