30 Old English Words We Should All Be Using


Have you ever wished there was a simple word to explain those complex situations, experiences and people we encounter in day-to-day life? For example, wouldn’t it be nice to have a word to describe someone who stays in bed all day long, or the physical toll you experience listening to a trivial or boring person incessantly rant about something you have no interest in?  

Researchers from the University of York in the UK spent months searching through old books and dictionaries to surface old, forgotten words, or as they called them “lost words,” from the English language that have fallen out of use, but are still relevant in modern life today.

As it turns out, someone who stays in bed all day long was called "slug-a-bed" in the old English, and the physical cost of listening to someone incessantly talking about something you have no interest was referred to as paying “ear-rent.”

Dominic Watt, senior linguistics lecturer at the University of York, who led the research, said he hoped people would re-engage with the language of old and use these defunct words more often in modern communications even though the words may appear a little strange to us at first.


Old, Lost Words That Still Have Relevance Today


“To allow people to really imagine introducing these words back into their everyday lives, we’ve chosen words that fit within themes still relevant to the average person,” Watt told the York Press.

The themes that Watt believes are highly relevant to modern life are: post-truth, appearance, personality and behavior, and emotions. “Within these themes, we’ve identified lost words that are both interesting and thought-provoking, in the hope of helping people re-engage with language of old,” he said.

Among the lost words identified in the study is "Snout-fair," which means "having a fair countenance; fair-faced, comely, handsome." "Betrump means to "deceive, cheat; to elude, slip from." "Merry-go-sorry" is a phrase used to describe "a mixture of joy and sorrow"

Check out the full list of words Watt and his team feel should be re-embraced by English speakers:

  1. Ambodexter, n: One who takes bribes from both sides
  2. Betrump, v: To deceive, cheat; to elude, slip from
  3. Coney-catch b, v: To swindle, cheat; to trick, dupe, deceive
  4. Hugger-mugger, n., adj., and adv: Concealment, secrecy; esp. in phr. in hugger-mugger: in secret, secretly, clandestinely. Formerly in ordinary literary use, now archaic or vulgar
  5. Nickum, n.: A cheating or dishonest person
  6. Quacksalver, n: A person who dishonestly claims knowledge of or skill in medicine; a pedlar of false cures
  7. Rouker, n.: A person who whispers or murmurs; one who spreads tales or rumours
  8. Man-millinery, adj: Suggestive of male vanity or pomposity
  9. Parget, v: To daub or plaster (the face or body) with powder or paint; to cover with cosmetic
  10. Snout-fair, adj.: Having a fair countenance; fair-faced, comely, handsome
  11. Slug-a-bed, n: One who lies long in bed through laziness
  12. Losenger, n.: A false flatterer, a lying rascal, a deceiver
  13. Momist, n: A person who habitually finds fault; a harsh critic
  14. Peacockize, v.: To behave like a peacock; esp. to pose or strut ostentatiously
  15. Percher, n.: A person who aspires to a higher rank or status; an ambitious or self-assertive person
  16. Rouzy-bouzy, adj.: Boisterously drunk
  17. Ruff, v: To swagger, bluster, domineer. To ruff it out / to brag or boast of a thing
  18. Sillytonian, n.: A silly or gullible person, esp. one considered as belonging to a notional sect of such people
  19. Wlonk, adj + n (also ‘wlonkness’) Proud, haughty /  Rich, splendid, fine, magnificent: in later use esp. as a conventional epithet in alliterative verse (N.  A fair or beautiful one)
  20. Fumish, adj: Inclined to fume, hot-tempered, irascible, passionate; also, characterized by or exhibiting anger or irascibility
  21. Awhape, v. To amaze, stupefy with fear, confound utterly
  22. Hugge, v. To shudder, shrink, shiver, or shake with fear or with cold
  23. Merry-go-sorry, n. A mixture of joy and sorrow
  24. Stomaching, adj.: Full of malignity; given to cherish anger or resentment
  25. Swerk, v. To be or become dark; in Old English often, to become gloomy, troubled, or sad
  26. Teen, v To vex, irritate, annoy, anger, enrage / To inflict suffering upon; to afflict, harass; to injure, harm
  27. Tremblable, adj. Causing dread or horror; dreadful
  28. Wasteheart, int. Used to express grief, pity, regret, disappointment, or concern: ‘alas!’ ‘woe is me!’ Also wasteheart-a-day, wasteheart of me
  29. Dowsabel, n. Applied generically to a sweetheart, ‘lady-love’
  30. Ear-rent, n. The figurative cost to a person of listening to trivial or incessant talk

So, perhaps you are feeling slug-a-bed this morning after getting all rouzy-bouzy with your mates last evening who, to be honest, have a tendency to peacockize and betrump when drunk.

The research was commissioned by insurance company Privilege who also ran a public vote to see which of the words should come back into everyday use.

Which words would you vote for to make a comeback into modern day use?

See Also: 16 Word Substitutions to Improve Boring Writing.


George Mathews is a journalist, content strategist, and staff writer at WebWriterSpotlight.com. He covers various topics from human interest stories to productivity and career development for the publication.