The Greeks saw politics as the noblest calling, and many people seem to have blind faith in political leaders. Regardless, the mud-slinging of today’s US political discourse is nothing new. Some “wicked words”, defined as “curses, insults, put-downs, and other formerly unprintable terms” (assembled by Hugh Rawson in a book of the same title), have certainly been part of our past and continue to be used today. Here are a few fun examples of curses, jibes, affronts and previously unprintable words.
Kook. An odd, eccentric or even crazy person
Rawson suggests the term originated in the 1950s, probably in the entertainment business, but the Oxford English Dictionary locates it in the 1960s, from the word cuckoo, a long-tailed bird but also a mad person.
Dope. A stupid or silly person
This word appeared in the early 19th century when it meant “thick liquid”, from the Dutch doop or “sauce”. Could it be related to the British definition of thick, an adjective meaning of low intelligence or stupid?
Gobbledygook. Language that is meaningless or impossible to understand due to the use of technical terms
The origin of this word is American. Some suggest it comes from imitating a turkey’s gobble, but the word is credited to US Representative Maury Maverick from Texas in 1944 who in a formal order urged Congress to ban “gobbledygook language” and “be short and say what you’re talking about . . . No more patterns, effectuating, dynamics. Anyone using the words activation or implementation will be shot.”
Grotty (grody). Poor quality, unwell, disgusting, unpleasant, bizarre
This word appeared in the 1960s as an abbreviation of grotesque. It was popular among teenagers and was still commonly used in the 1980s.
Gyp (gip). A swindle or swindler, or to cheat
This Americanism was used in the 1880s. It may have been a form of the word Gypsy, which itself came from the word Egyptian.
Ecdysiast. A striptease artist
This term dates from the 1940s, invented by H. L. Mencken, the German-American journalist, satirist and scholar of American English. It comes from the Greek ekdusis, which means shedding, combined with the suffix –iast (as in enthusiast).
Curmudgeon. A grouch, a bad-tempered or unfriendly person
This word was in use already in the 16th century, but it was applied specifically to Harold Ickes, who was US Secretary of the Interior when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president of the United States (1933-1945). Ickes even named his autobiography, Autobiography of a Curmudgeon. One of his famous, disparaging phrases about one member of the Senate was, “The trouble with Senator [Huey P.] Long is that he is suffering from halitosis of the intellect. That’s presuming Emperor Long has an intellect.”
Deadbeat. Someone who doesn’t pay their debts, a worthless or disreputable person
This, too, is an Americanism, from 1863, which may have originated in the earlier use of the same word that meant someone who was “beat” or completely exhausted.