10 Wonderful Old Words For Winter Ailments That We Need to Bring Back

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Winter has arrived, and you're likely washing your hands every five seconds to keep colds and the flu at bay. If the bad weather catches up with you though, here are 10 cold weather and winter ailment words you might find indispensable.

1. MELDROP

Derived from Scandinavian roots, originally a meldrop was a drop of foam from a horse’s mouth as it chomps on the bit—the metal crossbar held in a horse’s mouth, the Old Norse word for which was mel. According to the English Dialect Dictionary however, that original meaning gave way to a more figurative and more useful word in 16th century Scots: As well as being another word for a drip of water from the tip of an icicle, a meldrop is a pendulous droplet on the tip of a person’s nose.

2. SNIRL

Besides being a long-forgotten dialect word for the nose—or for the metal hoop pierced through a bull’s nostrils—snirl or snurl is an old 18th century dialect word for a stuffy head cold.

3. KIFFLE

To kiffle is to cough because you have a tickle in the throat. To hosk, meanwhile, is to cough harshly or painfully; to boke is to cough violently, according to the English Dialect Dictionary; and to wirken is to cough or choke, likely because you’re eating too quickly (a word worth remembering around the Christmas dinner table). A tissick, likewise, is a dry, tickling cough.

4. FOX’S COUGH

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), this is a hoarse, scratching cough that refuses to clear up, apparently so called because the fox’s call is so raucous and guttural. As far as different types of coughs go, however, probably the one to most stay clear of is a churchyard cough—a 17th century term for what the OED defines as “a bad cough, seemingly indicative of impending death.”

5. STERNUTAMENT

Sternutation is a 16th century medical word for the act of sneezing, which makes sternutament an equally ancient word for a single sneeze. As sneezing goes, the dictionary has quite a rich vocabulary to fall back on: chissup, atissha, and neazle are all long-forgotten and wonderfully onomatopoeic words for sneezes (with neazle predominately meaning to make the noise of a sneeze); the adjective ptarmic describes anything that makes you sneeze; and even the word sneeze itself is of interest, as it was originally spelled fnese before its initial F was misread as a long S in the 15th century.

6. AWVISH

Probably derived from a corruption of half or half-ish, if you’re awvish then you’re not exactly unwell, but you’re not feeling your best. A similar and equally evocative term from the 18th century was frobly-mobly, or fobly-mobly, which the lexicographer Francis Grose defined as meaning “indifferently well” in his Glossary of Provincial and Local Words in 1839.

7. PRESENTEEISM

The opposite of absenteeism is presenteeism—a term coined in the early 1930s for the act of turning up to work, despite being unwell.

8. HEADWARCH

Waerc was an Old English word for pain (which ironically derives from the same ancient root as work). That makes headwarch an equally ancient word for a headache, which only survived into recent decades in a handful of dialects from the northern counties of England. If you’re after something a bit more formal than that, however, there’s always cephalalgy, a word for a headache coined in the early 1600s; when things get really serious, there’s always galea—a Latin word for helmet—which according to one 1706 dictionary refers to a headache so-called "because it takes in the whole head."

9. KINK-HAUST

As a verb, kink can be used to mean "to cough convulsively," while a haust or hoast is a single cough or tickle in the throat. Put together, those words combine to form a dialect word, kink-haust, which according to a 19th century Vocabulary of East Anglia was once used to refer to a combined “violent cold and cough.”

10. ALYSM

And finally, if some or all of the above apply to you, it might be worth remembering this obscure term from psychology and psychiatry: The restless boredom or ennui that comes from being unwell or confined to your bed is called alysm.

10 Words and Phrases You Won’t Believe Are More Than 100 Years Old

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They may have been on people’s tongues even earlier, but 1914 marks the earliest year the lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary could document these words and phrases in print.

1. DOOHICKEY

The Oxford English Dictionary cleverly tells us that this word is a blend of doodad and hickey, defining the latter as “any small gadget or device; something of little consequence.” (The meanings “pimple” and “love bite” came later.) An unnamed writer in the U.S. publication Our Navy, November 12, 1914, says, “We were compelled to christen articles beyond our ken with such names as ‘do-hickeys’, ‘gadgets’ and ‘gilguys.'”

2. POSTMODERNISM

You might think that in 1914 folks were barely modern; how could they be contemplating postmodernism? Modern means current day, so people have always thought themselves modern—well, at least since 1456. To be fair, though, the postmodernism of 1914 is not the same as the movement in architecture, arts and literature that arose in the late 20th century—the one that preached “freedom from the tyranny of the new,” allowing creative people to mix old styles in with new ones. In 1914, Postmodernism was a reaction to Modernism, a movement in the Roman Catholic Church toward modifying traditional beliefs and doctrines in accordance with modern ideas and scholarship.

3. TIME TRAVEL

It’s a bit of a quirk that the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary didn’t find printed evidence of the phrase time travel earlier than 1914; they trace time traveler to 1894. H.G. Wells published The Time Machine in 1895 and he was quoted in the National Observer a year prior: “‘There,’ said the Time Traveller, ‘I am unable to give you an explanation. All I know is that the climate was very much warmer than it is now.’” (There’s no evidence that Wells coined the term global warming.)

4. ANTIVIRUS

In 1914, scientists knew only that viruses were infectious agents that could pass through filters that trapped bacteria, not that they typically consist of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat. Nonetheless, they were working on ways to combat virus infections in organisms, and a Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club for 1914 reported, “It was his opinion that an antivirus … was thus formed in the lower, healthy leaves which destroyed or rendered inert the virus ... ”

5. ADVERTORIAL

Advertorial, a blend of advertisement and editorial, is an ad or promotional material disguised as an editorial or objective report. So, you’d think the term would be bandied about the offices of a publication, but not blatantly emblazoned in print. There it is, though, as a headline in Rotarian, May 14, 1914: “A word to the women folk. An advertorial.”

6. ATOMIC BOMB

In a 1914 issue of English Review, guess who was apparently the first person to write about the possibility of an atomic bomb? Yes, H.G. Wells again: “Never before ... had there been a continuing explosive ...; and these atomic bombs which science burst upon the world that night were strange even to the men who used them.”

7. CHUNNEL

Although the Channel Tunnel linking England and France across the English Channel was not started until 1988 and was completed in 1994, the concept was conceived as early as 1802. In the February 4, 1914 issue of The Sketch, K. Howard declared, “Another word that will be stolen from me ... is ‘Chunnel.' This, naturally, will be the pet name for the Channel Tunnel when we get it.” He was right: In 1957, a writer for The New York Times Magazine claimed his newspaper coined the term.

8. BIG SCREEN

More than 100 years ago, before there was television with its small screen to provide contrast, the big screen already meant the movies. California's Fresno Morning Republican on October 24, 1914 reported, “The stage hands will devise noise effects to help carry out the illusion on the big screen.”

9. LIGHT SPEED

Even the popular press was talking about light speed a hundred years ago. Maryland's Frederick Post, February 25, 1914 wrote, “Measuring light speed. Even in this speed mad age we can never hope to equal the speed of light.”

10. OY VEY

You might think this Yiddish expression (literally, “Oh, woe") didn’t enter English until the 1950s, but in the New York Evening Journal, February 17, 1914, H Hershfield wrote, “I can't see a thing ... Worse then [sic] a fog. Oh Vay!”

This article originally appeared in 2014.

Supper vs. Dinner: Is There a Difference?

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A linguist might be able to guess the general region you’re from based solely on what you call your evening meal. But as an article from Wide Open Eats explains, it isn’t just a matter of dialect. Dinner and supper really do mean different things—or at least they used to.

Historically, the word dinner was associated with the largest meal of the day, regardless of whether it was served in the morning, afternoon, or evening. The term comes from the non-Classical Latin word disjējūnāre, which is defined as breaking a fast.

Supper, on the other hand, is more time-specific. It stems from the Old French word souper, meaning an evening meal, and it's generally lighter than other meals served throughout the day. In other words, supper and dinner have more to do with the quantity of food that’s served than the time of day that you feast on them.

In the 1800s and perhaps even earlier, Americans in some rural regions started calling their midday meal dinner, while supper was reserved for the evening meal. This had more to do with occupation than location, though. In parts of the South and Midwest where farmers needed ample fuel to get them through the day, the midday meal was larger (hence the use of the term dinner). In the evening, supper typically involved a light soup, and the act of eating it was referred to as supping. Indeed, the word supper is related to suppe, the German word for soup.

This is still the norm in some parts of the U.S. As Wide Open Eats discovered through Google Trends, a search for “supper” is most common in Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa.

This is also the case in some parts of the South. “If you grew up in the South post-colonial era, however, chances are your association with the words have more to do with colloquial etymology, rather than the time of day you sat down to eat,” Southern Living notes. “For example, you probably heard, 'supper’s ready,' just before Mama or Grandma placed a table-full of delicious dishes before you.”

However, supper is seldom used anymore—especially among younger generations—and dinner is by far the more popular term nationwide.

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