30 Old (and Useful) Slang Names for Parts of the Body

iStock.com/asiseeit
iStock.com/asiseeit

People have been using belly button to mean “navel” since the late 1800s. Your nose has been your schnozz since the 1940s, and your hooter since the '50s. Booty has been dated back as far as the 1920s. Guys have been comparing their guns since 1973, and their pecs since 1949. But slang names for parts of the body don’t end there. Slang and colloquial dictionaries dating back hundreds of years—including Francis Grose’s brilliant Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1788)—are littered with dozens of odd and inventive anatomical alternatives for everything from a greasy cowlick to the littlest of little toes, 30 examples of which are listed here.

1. Aggravator

In 19th century slang, aggravators—or haggerawators as Charles Dickens called them—were lose locks of hair hanging over the forehead, like a kiss-curl or cowlick. At the time, it was fashionable for young men to grease aggravators down so that they lay flat against the skin.

2. Bowsprit

A bowsprit is a long pole or bar that extends out from the prow of a boat, to which various sails and stays are tied. As the most prominent part of the main structure of the boat, however, bowsprit became a slang word for the nose in the mid-1700s.

3. Brainpan

Your brainpan or braincase is your skull. Still used today in some dialects of English, brainpan is by far the oldest word on this list; it comes from Old English.

4. Candle-mine

Back when candles were made out of tallow (rendered beef grease) rather than wax, a person’s candle-mine was their own personal storehouse of fat—or, in other words, their belly.

5. Cat-sticks

In 18th century slang, cat-sticks or trap-sticks were a skinny man’s long, bony legs. The term comes from the sticks used to play tip-cat, an old game in which players would hit a short wooden bar called a tip into the air with a long tapering pole known as a cat-stick. The tip would be bounced up and then batted as far as possible, with the player who propelled their tip the farthest being the winner.

6. Clapper

Clapper has been used as a slang name for the tongue since the 17th century, in the sense that a talkative person’s tongue constantly moves back and forth like the clapper inside a bell.

7. Commandments

In Tudor English, your ten commandments were your 10 fingernails. Shakespeare alludes to it in Henry VI, Part 2: “Could I come near your beauty with my nails, I could set my ten commandments on your face.”

8. Corporal

According to 18th century slang, your thumb is your corporal, and your other four fingers are the privates.

9. Daddles

Your daddles are your hands, although no one knows precisely why. The most likely theory is that this comes from dadder, an 18th century word meaning to stagger or walk unsteadily, in which case it probably first referred to a nervous person’s shaking hands.

10. Dew-Beater

Dew-beaters is 19th century slang for your feet, alluding to someone knocking the dew off the grass as they walk. The word was also once used to mean a pioneer or an early riser—namely someone who arrived before or started their day before anyone else.

11. Famble

Famble is an old 14th century word meaning to stammer or stumble your words, and probably through confusion with fumble it came to be used as another name for a hand in Tudor slang. A fambler, incidentally, is a crook who sells counterfeit rings.

12. Grabbing Irons

In 18th century naval slang, your grabbers were your hands and your grabbing or grabbling irons were your fingers.

13. Hause-Pipe

Hause is an old Scots word for a narrow valley or a passage between two hills or mountains, and it eventually came to be used metaphorically for the throat or gullet. Your hause-pipe, ultimately, is your windpipe.

14. Keeker

Keek is another old Scots word, meaning a quick glimpse or glance, especially of something you really shouldn’t be looking at. Hence a keeker is both an old word for an eyeball, and another name for an ogler or a peeping tom.

15. Maconochie

Maconochie Brothers, founded first as a fishmongers by James Maconochie in 1870, was a food cannery based in London’s East End that supplied millions of tons of canned food rations to troops serving in the First World War. As a result, the name Maconochie eventually came to be used as another name for the stomach in military slang.

16. Maypole

For reasons too obvious to go into here, maypole was a 17th century name for a penis, along with dozens of others: needle, rubigo, virge, tarse, runnion and—probably most euphemistically of all—the other thing.

17. Peerie-Winkie

Peerie is an old Scottish word meaning small or tiny; your peerie-winkie is your little finger or toe.

18. Phiz

Phiz is short for fizzog or physog, all three of which are 18th century abbreviations of physiognomy, a term for a person’s facial features or appearance.

19. Prat

Prat is a 16th century name for a buttock or the side of the hip. It’s the same prat as in pratfall, incidentally (which was originally a theatrical name for a fall backwards onto your rear), while a prat-frisker or prat-digger was a pickpocket particularly skilled at stealing from people’s back pockets.

20. Prayer-Bones

Because of the long tradition of kneeling to pray, your prayer-bones have been your kneecaps since the mid-19th century at least.

21. Pudding-House

It’s where your pudding ends up, so unsurprisingly, your pudding-house is your stomach. It’s likely this was also used more generally to refer to the abdomen or trunk of the body, however, as since the late-1800s pregnant women have been said to be “in the pudding club” in British slang.

22. Rattletrap

Trap has been used as a slang name for the mouth since at least the 18th century, and rattletrap is just one variation of this theme, alongside dozens of others like potato-trap, kissing-trap, jaw-trap, gingerbread-trap, and gin-trap.

23. Salt-Cellar

In 19th century slang, the small round hollow between the collarbones at the base of the neck—and in particular a young woman’s neck—was nicknamed the salt-cellar, a reference to the small bowls or basins of salt used in kitchens. (That hollow’s proper anatomical name, incidentally, is the suprasternal notch.)

24. Spectacles-Seat

Because it’s where your spectacles rest, the bridge of your nose was your spectacles-seat in Victorian slang.

25. Three-Quarters

Three-quarters was criminals’ rhyming slang for your neck in the late 18th century, derived from “three-quarters of a peck,” an old measure of volume.

26. Trillibubs

Trillibubs (or trolly-bags as they also became known) are guts or intestines. The term was originally used by butchers, usually in the full phrase tripes and trillibubs, in the early 16th century, but by the mid-1700s it had come to be used as a slang name for a person’s guts, or for a bloated stomach.

27. Twopenny

Twopenny is short for twopenny loaf, which is in turn derived from loaf of bread—rhyming slang for “head” since the early 1800s at least.

28. Underpinnings

Underpinnings are literally the materials and supports used to support a structure, like the foundations of a building. Based on that, in the early 19th century the term came to be used as a slang name for your legs.

29. Victualling Office

The victualling office was the naval department responsible for allocating and dispensing food and other supplies to the crew of a ship ahead of a voyage. It came to be a slang name for the stomach or abdomen in the mid-1700s.

30. Welsh Comb

Your Welsh comb is your thumb and four fingers. According to the relatively more cosmopolitan Londoners who invented the term in the 18th century, that’s precisely what a supposedly less sophisticated Welshman would once have used to comb his hair.

This post first ran in 2014.

What Are The Most Popular Baby Names In Your State? An Interactive Tool Will Tell You

iStock/PeopleImages
iStock/PeopleImages

Baby names can be just as in vogue, as unpopular, and occasionally as controversial as any fashion trend. If you were ever curious to see which names were the most popular in your home state, now you can.

The Social Security Administration has an interactive tool on its website that allows users to see the top 100 names that made it onto birth certificates by both birth year and state. There’s also an option for seeing what the top five names were by year, plus links to the most popular baby names by territory and decade as well as background info that explains the data itself.

Maine, for example, saw a high number of Olivers and Charlottes born in 2018 while Brysons and Viviennes rolled in last. If one were to turn the Census clock back to 1960 (the earliest year the tool can take you to), they would find that Pine Tree State folks were most partial to the names David and Susan. The names at the bottom for that year? Darryl and Lynne.

Baby names can offer telling insight into an era—they often reflect significant cultural happenings of the time. In 2009, for example, it was reported that there was a significant increase in Twilight-related names like Bella, Cullen, Jasper, Alice, and Emmett, whereas 2019 saw a spike in children’s names more appropriately found in Westeros, with Arya and Khaleesi topping the list (though one mom came to regret naming her daughter the latter).

Each of the names on the website were taken from Social Security applications. There are certain credentials by which names are listed, including the name being at least two characters long. Although it is not provided by the tool, records kept by the administration list the most popular names as far back as the 1880s.

10 Words & Phrases Coined in Comic Strips

iStock/crisserbug
iStock/crisserbug

Cartoons, comics, and newspaper comic strips might seem like an unusual source of new words and phrases, but English is such an eclectic language—and comic strips have always had daily access to such a vast number of people—that a few of their coinages have slipped into everyday use. Here are the etymological stories behind 10 examples of precisely that.

1. Brainiac

The most famous brainiac is a cold-hearted, hyper-intelligent adversary of Superman who first appeared as an alien in DC Comics’ Action Comic #242, “The Super-Duel In Space,” in 1958. But after releasing his first adventure, DC Comics discovered that the name was already in use for a do-it-yourself computer kit. In deference to the kit, Brainiac was turned into a “computer personality” and became the great villain. As a nickname for an expert or intellectual, his (and the kit’s) name slipped into more general use in English by the early 1970s.

2. Curate’s Egg

Like the curate’s egg is a 19th century English expression that has come to mean something comprised of both good and bad parts. It comes from a one-off cartoon entitled “True Humility” that appeared in the British satirical magazine Punch in November 1895. Drawn by the artist George du Maurier (grandfather of the novelist Daphne du Maurier), the cartoon depicted a stern-looking bishop sharing breakfast with a young curate, who has unluckily been served a bad egg. Not wanting to make a scene in front of the bishop, the curate is shown eating the egg anyway, alongside the caption “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you, parts of it are excellent.”

3. Goon

Goon is thought to originally derive from gony, an old English dialect word once used by sailors to describe cumbersome-looking seabirds like albatrosses and pelicans. Based on this initial meaning, in the early 1900s, goon came to be used as another word for an equally dull-looking or slow-witted person, and it was this that presumably inspired Popeye cartoonist EC Segar to create the character of Alice the Goon for his Thimble Theater series of comics in 1933. But it’s Segar’s portrayal of Alice—as a dutiful but impossibly strong 8-foot giantess—that went on to inspire the use of goon as a nickname for a hired heavy or thug, paid to intimidate or terrorize someone without asking questions, in 1930s slang.

4. Jeep

Jeep is popularly said to derive from an approximate pronunciation of the letters “GP,” which are in turn taken as an abbreviation of “general purpose” vehicle. If so, then jeep belongs alongside only a handful other examples (like deejay, okay, veep and emcee) in an unusual class of words that begin their life as a phrase, then become an abbreviation, and then a whole new word based on the abbreviation—but in the case of jeep, that’s probably not the entire story. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the spelling jeep was likely influenced by the character Eugene the Jeep, a yellow cat-like animal (that only ever made a jeep! jeep! noise) that also first appeared alongside Popeye in EC Segar’s Thimble Theater in 1936. Jeep was then adopted into military slang during the Second World War as a nickname for an inexperienced or enthusiastic new recruit, but eventually somehow came to establish itself as another name for a specialized military vehicle in the early 1940s and it’s this meaning that remains in place today.

5. Keeping Up With The Joneses

A Keeping Up With the Joneses strip from 1921
A "Keeping up with the Joneses" comic strip from 1921
Pop Momand, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Synonymous with the quiet rivalries between neighbors and friends, the idiom keeping up with the Joneses comes from the title of a comic strip created by the cartoonist Arthur “Pop” Momand in 1913. Based partly on Momand’s own experiences in one of the wealthiest parts of New York, the strip ran for almost 30 years in the American press and even inspired a cartoon series during the height of its popularity in the 1920s. The eponymous Joneses—whom Momand wanted originally to call “The Smiths,” before deciding that “Joneses” sounded better—were the next-door neighbors of the cartoon’s central characters, but were never actually depicted in the series.

6. Malarkey

Etymologically, malarkey is said to somehow derive from the old Irish surname Mullarkey, but precisely how or why is unclear. As a nickname for rubbish or nonsense talk, however, its use in English is often credited to the American cartoonist Thomas Aloysius Dorgan—better known as “TAD”—who first used it in this context in several of his Indoor Sports cartoon series in the early 1920s. But the spelling hadn’t been standardized yet. Once he spelled it Milarkey referring to a place, and in one famous example, depicting a courtroom scene, one of Dorgan’s characters exclaims, “Malachy! You said it: I wouldn’t trust a lawyer no further than I could throw a case of Scotch!” (Dorgan, incidentally, is also credited with giving the English language the phrases cat’s pajamas and drugstore cowboy.)

7. Milquetoast

Taking his name from the similarly bland breakfast snack “milk toast,” the character Caspar Milquetoast was created by the American cartoonist Harold T. Webster in 1924. The star of Webster’s Timid Soul comic strip, Caspar was portrayed as a quiet, submissive, bespectacled old man, whom Webster himself once described as the kind of man who “speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick.” His name has been used as a byword for any equally submissive or ineffectual person since the mid-1930s.

8. Poindexter

When Otto Messmer’s Felix the Cat comic strip was adapted for television in the late 1950s, a whole host of new supporting characters was added to the cast, including a super-intelligent, labcoat-wearing schoolboy named Poindexter, who was the nephew of Felix’s nemesis, The Professor. Created by the cartoonist Joe Oriolo, Poindexter’s name—which was apparently taken from that of Oriolo’s attorney—had become a byword for a nerdish or intellectual person in English slang by the early 1980s.

9. Shazam

Shazam was coined in Whiz Comics #2 in February 1940, as the name of an old wizard who grants 12-year-old Billy Batson the ability to transform into Captain Marvel. The wizard’s name, Shazam, was henceforth also Captain Marvel’s magic word, with which he was able to call on the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury.

10. Zilch

As another word for “zero,” zilch has been used in English since the early '60s. But before then, from the 1930s onward, it was predominantly used as a nickname for any useless and hopeless character or non-entity or someone who didn't exist. In this context it was probably coined in and popularized by a series of cartoons that first appeared in Ballyhoo humor magazine in 1931, and which featured a hapless unseen businessman character named “President Henry P. Zilch.” Although it’s possible the writers of Ballyhoo created the name from scratch, it’s likely that they were at least partly inspired by an old student slang expression, Joe Zilsch, which was used in the 1920s in the same way as John Doe or Joe Sixpack would be today.

This list first ran in 2015 and was republished in 2019.

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