There are very few treasures that we can dig out of the ground, dust off, and put into use as if they were brand-new. Words, of course, are an exception. The purpose of this book is to provide you with your very own collection of treasures, ready to be resurrected and introduced into conversation with a delighted audience. I created this book to meet the demands of the modern speaker or writer to preserve language, colorfully express unique emotions, and personally connect to a rich history with the mere stroke of a key or vibration of the throat.
It’s hard to define exactly why we love these dusty, musty archaic words. Is it the colorful way they sound as you speak them and hear them? Their odd specificity? Their uniqueness? They do come in great variety. And while some sound fit only for impressing one’s noble peers at an upper-crust Victorian ball, others sound like they were overheard late at night in a dimly lit medieval tavern. Some have ten equally evocative synonyms, while others may be the only word ever crafted to define a certain feeling. Whatever their origin, whatever their use, these words have this in common: they inevitably bring joy in their rediscovery. “There’s a word for that,” you will say, in countless conversations, settings, and situations.
Admittedly, we can see why some of these words faded away as the years slipped by and dictionaries were updated. I mean, do we really need a word for “a warning that one is about to throw waste out of a window”? (See gardyloo.) Perhaps not, but what enchantment there is in knowing that there is a word for it. Words, like traditions and customs, drop out of use when they go out of fashion. But unlike customs, which are tied to specific norms of their time, words can be brought back with an updated context! Practicality may chip away at our language, but the magic of the lost words in this book ought not to be forgotten.
Most, but not all, of the words in this book are English words. English has had many periods of playful linguistic experimentation—just consider the times of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens. English was formed in part by the requirements of playwrights, novelists, poets, speakers, actors, farmers, drinkers, and jokers to express themselves. English contains many simple monosyllabic words, and British English writers and speakers of the past delighted in mixing words together, or inventing them, purely for the silly way they sounded. That’s why many of these words are so fun to say.
This book will expand your vocabulary, but it will also treat you to a glimpse of past lives. Time separates us from our ancestors, but careful study of history unites us with them in deep, empathetic, and relevant ways. You will see how much their lives were exactly like ours, and how much they differed. You will learn the ways in which their language can work in a modern world, if only we adjust the context of its use ever so slightly. Finally, you will learn where we’ve been—an essential component in guiding us toward a more expressive future.
When I created History Hustle, a publication for social media, I wanted to give history buffs a place of their own. A place full of history they can use, relate to, and see themselves in—a place that aims to make history palatable, humorous, and lively. Many history books, sites, magazines, movies, and podcasts focus on wars, violence, and politics. History Hustle aims to show that ordinary, everyday humans were there all along, with hopes, dreams, jokes, friends, lovers, and lives remarkably similar to our own. This book is an extension of that. Readers, you are encouraged to use these words often to show your knowledge and careful consideration of our history. These words are a toolkit for history buffs and word lovers alike to express themselves. Now, go off to your favorite snuggery (see page 159) and enjoy this fun trip back in time.
Copyright © 2019 by Joe Gillard. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.