Don’t get your knickers in a twist—these old words (from don’t mean what you think, even if they do sound a bit raunchy. Read on for some brazen, harmless fun!  Whether you’re a professional linguist, casual word-lover, or raging grammarphobe, one thing’s for sure:  people get a buzz from learning old words, especially if the words sound funny, or even slightly rude (which they aren’t). See what you think:

  • Butt shaft: Needless to say, butts aren’t at play here. What is at play is the archer’s arrow; a butt shaft is a “blunt or barbless arrow.” Butt shafts might not be useful to Katniss (we’ll never really know), but the word apparently appealed to Shakespeare.
  • Coverslut: It wouldn’t be nice at all if coverslut was the word for any bandaid-wearing nudie on the cover of an erotic magazine (truth be told, it’s sometimes hard to tell the mainstream mags from the Maxims). In the 1600s, a coverslut was a kind of apron women wore while out gardening or cooking to conceal the signs of their dirty work—because, how horrid! Slut didn’t have the pejorative or sexually explicit sense it does today, but it did refer to “untidiness” or “slovenly appearance.”
  • Dick-pot: Dick-pot is a word from the 1700s referring to the earthenware pots people filled with hot embers or coals to warm their cold tootsies. According to Ann Elizabeth Baker, writing in the 1800s, dick-pots were favoured by little old ladies who put them under their petticoats to keep them warm while darning, knitting, and tatting lace.
  • Dream-hole: Look, the term dream-holes could be a perfectly and wholly nonsexual reference to a person’s ears. No? Just trying to keep everything decent! Upon closer investigation, the term dream-holes really does have a lovely and refreshing air about it, just like the breezes dream-holes allowed to waft through. These were slender openings cut into medieval watchtowers enabling guards to look out and sunshine and fresh air to flow in. Churches also use dream-holes to intensify the sound of bells chiming.
  • Fuksheet: Oh dear. Fuksheet. In Middle English, the fuk in fuksheet meant “sail.” More specifically, the fuksheet was the sail located on the fukmast and both fuk mechanisms were located at the front of the ship.
  • Scarpenis: Ouch. This sounds like a very unpleasant condition that a urologist could readily handle. That, or a snake charmer. Moving right along, scarpenis is a disastrous Scottish mispronunciation of the French word escarpines, meaning “slippers.” In an 1880s etymological dictionary of the Scottish language (with a title 31 words long), the lexicographer cites a Scottish poem in which “thair dry scarpenis, baythe tryme and meit; thair mullis glitteran on thair feit.” Here’s a shot-in-the-dark translation: “their dry slippers both trim and meet (Old English for “proper, suitable”); their mules (another type of shoe) glitter on their feet.”
  • Slut-hole: We’ll prevent your minds from slumping into the sewer by informing you that, on the basis of slut‘s original reference to literal dirt, slut-hole was a Victorian slang term for the trash can (or bin, as Brits prefer). If a receptacle for waste wasn’t around, both the heap of trash itself and the general vicinity of the smelly heap also went by slut-hole or slut’s hole. And to make sure we air out all the dirt on slut, the precursor to today’s dust bunnies was slut’s wool.
  • Tetheradick: British sheep farmers once used unique counting systems to keep track of their herds. The numbers varied depending on the rural area and the dialect spoken. In the Lake District of Northwest England (home to William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter), tether meant “three” and dick was “ten.” Add them together and tetheradick means “thirteen.”
  • Tittynope: Perhaps Shakira was thinking of the word tittynope in 2001 when she lyrically declared, “lucky that my breasts are small and humble so you don’t confuse them with mountains.” This is unlikely given the association could only be made had the singer lived in 1700s Yorkshire, England. Three hundred years ago, tittle meant “tiny.” A tittynope was a small quantity of a tasty treat: a tittynope of pie, cake, or beer.
  • Assart: In medieval English, an assart was a plot of land that was deforested and primed for farming. For example: o’er yonder hill lies my assart. You can also use this as a verb, as in the farmer assarted his land before planting.

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Martin Pollins
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