Tag Archives: Dr Johnson’s dictionary

Bibacious and Keck – drinking words


The festive season can be a somewhat drink-sodden celebration and with New Year’s Eve approaching it’s time for some boozy words. The pair I’ve chosen I found in the “QI Second Book of General Ignorance”. I love QI, the BBC comedy show about unusual facts. The spin-off podcast created by the QI Elves (a.k.a. researchers) “No Such Thing as a Fish” is a wonderfully witty and entertaining listen if you’re looking for something fun to cheer up January 2020.

The first of the words is bibacious, a gem of a word, which QI found in Doctor Johnson’s Dictionary (sadly his famous dictionary appears to be out of print, but if any of you find a copy, please let me know). Bibacious describes somebody who is a binge-drinker or simply fond of drinking so you can decide yourself how insulting it is although Webster’s dictionary reckons it means you are addicted to drinking. It comes from the Latin verb bibere (to drink) and dates to the 1600s.

A bibacious cocktail menu

The second Dr. Johnson word is keck (pronunciation here) which is to heave the stomach as if about to vomit. Collins English Dictionary tells me this one has three meanings – 1) to retch or feel nauseous, 2) to feel/express disgust, or 3) an alternate name for cow parsley. The noun and verb forms are sadly disconnected so I can’t speculate about how much cow parsley you would eat before you retched. Keck dates to the late 1500s and its roots lie in its sound resembling that of a person being unwell.

I hope that if you have a bibacious New Year’s Eve, it doesn’t result in any kecking.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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What does a shapesmith do?


This week I’ve chosen another word from Dr. Johnson‘s English dictionary (1755) – shapesmith. He defined this as “one who undertakes to improve the form of the body” and I can’t help thinking that he had modern day personal trainers in mind.

He may not have been a fan of shapesmiths, the only images I’ve found of old Samuel depict a rather portly chap, but then again he may not have had physical fitness fanatics in mind at all. Apparently a shapesmith (in a citation from 1719) could also refer to a corset maker. In the 1700s they had corsets, nowadays we have body-shaping underwear and cosmetic surgery. Perhaps it is human nature to seek the shortcut?

But I doubt that he had Shapesmith, the comic book super hero in mind. He’s a Martian metamorph from the Invincible comics.

Whatever Samuel’s intention in his ground-breaking dictionary, I love that his word is still in use, and still morphing with use, 260 years later.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


Tonguepad – a great talker


This week’s word is tonguepad and it comes from Dr. Johnson’s dictionary which was published in 1755 and I’ve always liked it. I mean, we had footpads (Dickensian muggers), so why not tonguepads?

A tonguepad is a great or glib talker and is a dialect noun mainly used in British English.

I spent my Saturday at training for Adult Scouters (a.k.a. leaders) which meant I had to listen rather than talk and it included advice on getting six-year-old tonguepads to stop chatting nonstop so they can learn how to play a game or put up a tent. I hope some of it works as I usually come home exhausted and hoarse from Beaver Scout meetings. But I also come home buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm because spending an hour with that age group is like being plugged into the electricity supply. They teach me new words too – perhaps I’ll write a Junior Wordfoolery post soon.


On Sunday I was lucky enough to meet up with two old friends (one I’ve known since I was four) and it reminded me how much I enjoy their conversation. It’s varied, intelligent, funny, informative, engaging, and honest. After 37 years of talking together, we’re still a bunch of tonguepads and I hope that never stops.

Until next time happy talking, reading, writing, and wordfooling,


If you’re interested in Dr. Johnson’s dictionary – check out my other posts – Does Lusk mean Lazy, Feculent, Are you having a Grum Monday?

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Does Lusk mean Lazy?


This week, in the aftermath of NaNoWriMo 2013, I’m taking it easy. Which put me in mind of a word I jotted down to investigate a while ago.

Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary tells us that lusk means idle or worthless. It caught my eye because the town of Lusk, North Dublin isn’t a million miles from my home. I couldn’t help wondering if its past inhabitants had been such sloths as to spawn a new English word.

Merriam Webster adds that luskish is to be sluggish or somewhat lazy and that its obscure origins lie in the Middle English verb lusken meaning to lie hidden. It sounded very Germanic/Scandinavian to my ears and sure enough it comes from Danish origins and means to slink about and is related to a favourite verb of mine to lurk.

I like the notion of luskers lurking under their blankets, hiding from activity. I might need a little of that this week while my brain recovers from NaNo fever.

As for the good people of Lusk, they are off the hook. The town’s name comes not from Danish, or Middle English but is an English corruption of the original Irish name. The word lusca (pronounced loo-ska) means cave and refers to the cave dwelling of their founding Saint MacCullin c. 450.

Until next time, happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


p.s. I made it to 62,251 words by November 30th – nine chapters still to write, so I can’t lusk for long.

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It was feculent weather on Saturday at Slieve Gullion Forest Park. We cajoled our short-legged Beaver Scouts uphill (children aged 6-8), settled for a picnic and instantly the heavens opened. We grabbed a few wet bites of pinics, enjoyed watching the local hunters training their gundogs with dummies on the hillside in a brief window of dry weather, and then sauntered back downhill. We waited, out of the rain but watching very happy ducks in their rain-lashed pond, for the Cubs and Scouts (on longer hikes) to join us for our transport home.

We thought we were wet, but we weren’t really. When the older scouts arrived, drenched to the skin through multiple layers of “waterproofs”, we understood what feculent really meant. Their off-road trail had turned to a slippery morass down which they had slithered.

So, feculent (pronounced fek-ull-ent), first defined in Dr. Johnson’s dictionary of English (a book I really must buy), means that something is foul, turbid, muddy, or containing the dregs of fecal matter. Delightful.

I’ll be spending my week washing the feculent remains of that hike from our gear and praying the weather isn’t similar at our overnight camp next weekend. I keep reminding the world that June is meant to be summertime in Ireland, but the world isn’t listening. It’s raining as I write this.

Until next time, happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


Are you having a grum Monday?


this week’s word is grum which means a mixture of glum and surly. You can also suffer from grumness and behave in a grumly manner. It’s defined by Webster as being a probable blend of grim and glum, which seems likely.

Apparently the word appeared in Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary, but the word died out of everyday usage during the 19th century.

I rather wish it hadn’t, it sounds right and certainly describes some Mondays I’ve experienced in my time.

I was delighted to find, when researching grum, that there’s another fool for words who likes it, Mark Forsyth over at the Inky Fool. It’s always fun to encounter other word fools.

Until next time, happy reading writing and word fooling,