Friday, 18 November 2016

Have at Thee

Curses! They’re fun to say, but not fun to deal with. But the lifting of the curse of the Cubs is a reminder that being cursed—whether by witchcraft, voodoo, or just some jerk—is an unavoidable, timeless part of life. Here are some older, out-of-use words for the next time you need to put the whammy on somebody. Use these imprecations with diabolical care.

1. DODGAST

This term—which is very similar to terms such as dadblasted and dagnabbit—is one of many euphemistic terms for blasphemous thoughts. The idea is that saying “God damn!” would just be wrong, but “Dodgast!” is just fine, because I guess God can’t decode euphemisms for some reason. An 1888 use from the Detroit Free Press voices a common sentiment: “It's a dodgasted funny thing ... but it's a fact.”

2. WILLER

willer wills something to happen—sometimes that involves ill will. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records a few examples from around the 1500s that make the diabolical aspect of the word clear: evil-willer and cursed willer. Still, an evil-willer is better than an evil-doer.

3. AND 4. PIG-FACED LADY AND HOG-FACED GENTLEWOMAN

Now let’s take a break from causes and move to effects, the kind of effects that sound plausible if you believe a few evil words can produce an animal-human hybrid. As the OED puts it, a pig-faced lady is “a legendary woman of noble birth said to have been born with a pig's face as the result of a curse; also known as the hog-faced gentlewoman.”

5. SAILOR'S FAREWELL

Since sailors are known for their salty language, it’s no surprise this is a euphemistic term for what is actually more of a fare-ill. This one has been around since at least the 1930s.

6. FLEMISH COMPLIMENT

Here’s a similarly understated term that’s insulting to a particular nationality. If you give someone a Flemish compliment, you’ve done just the opposite: cursed them, or at least buried them with verbal abuse. A dry use from 1847’s Settlers and Convicts shows this term in action: “The other hands never fail to pay the blunderer some very Flemish compliments.”

7. PLAGUEY

Though it sounds like a product of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this (originally) quite literal term has been around since the 1500s. Anything plaguey caused the plague, was infected by the plague, or had a whole bunch of plaguiness going on. Then it gradually softened, not always referring to plagues but operating as a synonym for goddamn or confounded. This one turns up in the recent past, as seen in a 1990 use from Brisbane’s Sun newspaper: “Have someone pick a quarrel with the plaguey, superfluous little rascal.”

8. PUT THE BLIND ON

Green’s Dictionary of Slang—now available online—records this term in the 1990s. When you put the blind on, you put a curse on someone. Why blind? It appears to be a euphemism of bloody. Since the late 1900s, to blind was to swear, and there’s also the expression “Blind me!”

9. AND 10. GOOFER AND GOOFER DUST

goofer is far from a goofball. The word, believed to derive from the Kikongo word kufwa, has meant "witch doctor" since the late 1800s. A goofer could also be a curse, and there's a curser’s tool too: goofer dust, a powder used in hoodoo to cast a spell that can harm an individual.
MF

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