U.K. Researchers Look To Revive Forgotten English Words

Sep 26, 2017
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now we're going to dust off some old words, starting with this one - dotard.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It means an old person, especially one who has become weak or senile. It was popular during Shakespeare's time.

SIEGEL: Last week North Korea's Kim Jong Un called President Trump a dotard. And then Trump fired back, calling Kim a madman.

CHANG: Now, had the president wanted to match Kim's archaic vocabulary, he could have used one of these words.

DOMINIC WATT: Nickum, rouker, losenger.

SIEGEL: Nickum - a cheating or dishonest person.

CHANG: Rouker - someone who spreads rumors.

SIEGEL: Losenger - a lying rascal.

WATT: It's nice to have new ways of expressing old ideas.

CHANG: That's Dr. Dominic Watt, senior linguistic lecturer at the University of York in the U.K. Recently he and a team of researchers combed through historical texts and dictionaries looking for old words they thought could be useful today.

SIEGEL: They came up with a list of 30, including snoutfair.

WATT: George Clooney is very snoutfair.

SIEGEL: Snout as in nose, fair as in handsome - as in, you've got a nice nose. You're a good-looking person.

CHANG: There's also...

WATT: Momist.

CHANG: That's a harsh critic. A momist is always finding fault with things.

SIEGEL: And then there's this old word.

WATT: Betrump.

SIEGEL: Betrump - it's a verb.

WATT: To swindle or to deceive, to cheat somebody.

CHANG: And while it sounds like something a critic of the president might have coined on Twitter, Dominic Watt says betrump actually dates back to the 16th century, found in a Scottish translation of Virgil's epic poem "The Aeneid." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.