Weird Words, Part 11

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1970 edition


Even though the word “nincompoop” is considered to be colloquial, it’s claimed that it has a very learned past. One account reports that it stems from non compos mentis, which is Latin for “not of right mind.” It’s claimed that it was once actually a legal term. The idea of a lawyer using that word in a court of law is kind of amusing. In my mind’s eye I can see a lawyer in some fancy suit making his final statement to the jury and finishing by saying with a flourish, “And so you can see that the accused is indeed totally and utterly a nincompoop. I rest my case.”

I can sort of see where you might get “nincom” from “non compos.” But where did the “poop” come from. Oh wait. I know what you’re thinking. I actually do know where poop comes from. Just not in this case.

Poop is kind of a funny word in itself. If you say it too many times in a row, it starts to sound even funnier. I’m not really seven years old. I just act that way sometimes.

If you know me at all by this time, you know I had to look up the word “poop.” Looks like originally it was a verb. Most likely it came from the Middle English poupen or popen. Originally, those verbs meant to make a gulping sound while drinking, blow on a horn, or toot (hmmm?). In Low German (pupen), it meant to fart or break wind. I think there might have been a little bit of onomatopoeia in play there. Farts often make a popping noise if you let go of them suddenly. TMI?

“Poop” is also considered to be a noun. We all know what it means. I’m not going to spell it out. Oh wait, I just did. Silly me. There is, however, a second definition given for the word “poop” and it is unaccountably this:  the sound of a steam engine’s whistle; typically low pitch. Go figure. I don’t get that one at all.

Back to “nincompoop.” A nincompoop is a fool, an idiot, a bonehead or a dope. It might be that the word “ninny” came from “nincompoop” and is a less onerous way of saying, “Man you are so stupid it hurts.”

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1970 edition


A blatherskite is defined as a person who speaks at great length while making very little sense. Another source defines it as a person given to voluble, empty talk. However you look at it, it adds up to a lot of blah, blah, blah.

According to World Wide Words, blether is a Scots word meaning loquacious claptrap (oh my gosh, there’s another good word to investigate). Blether comes from the Old Norse blathra which means to talk nonsense. It is still around now in various other forms such as blather and blither.

The skite part of the word is a little harder to pin down. But World Wide Words offers this plausible explanation:

Skate (or skite as Australians and New Zealanders use it) is the Scots word for a person held in contempt because of his boasting. Note the use of the male pronoun “his.” A female would never …well okay maybe. Nevermind.

It’s thought that skite derives from an Old Norse word meaning to shoot. If this is indeed true, it could be the origin of the American word skeet, as in skeet shooting. Which means that skeet shooting actually means “shoot shooting.”

In any case, blatherskite is first recorded in use in an old Scots ballad called Maggie Lauder, attributed to Francis Sempill (or Semple) and dated to about 1643.

The last line in the first verse is written this way: “Jog on your gate ye blether skyte, my name is Maggie Lauder.” It roughly translates to: “Be on your way, you talkative boaster, my name is Maggie Lauder.”

The song was considered a bit risqué (the piper, for instance, explains how all the girls swoon when he blows his chanter) and was very popular with the American side in the War of Independence. This introduced bletherskate, later blatherskite, to the American vocabulary.

It’s still in the dictionary. And I suppose there are some people who might use this word from time to time. But honestly, I’m not really one of them. I have, however, been known to call myself a total nincompoop from time to time.

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1970 edition
My ancient dictionary did not have any version of lollygag in it. I am sooo disappointed.


Simply put, lollygag means to spend time aimlessly, to be idle, or to dawdle.

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the origins of this word. Etymonline says it might have stemmed from dawdle or dally. In American English, Etymonline indicates it is better known as lallygag (really? Could have fooled me). And the whole mess might be the result of adding the dialectal lolly meaning “tongue” to gag meaning to deceive or a trick.

But how a tongue trick becomes synonymous with wasting time is beyond me. And if you ask me, this also sounds a little bit risqué.

So then I wondered about lollipop. Don’t the British refer to a lollipop as simply lolly? And if lolly really does mean tongue, isn’t that just a little weird?

Well, I guess I had better stop lollygagging and put an end to all this blather before everyone thinks I really am a total nincompoop.

Published by Dianne Lehmann

I'm a writer. But I'm also a wife and a mom to a couple of fur babies. You could call me a cook (but never a chef, I'm not that good) and provisioner as well. Laundress? Yeah. Probably. I design jewelry and I crochet. But mostly I love to write. I love words and how they sound. I love their meanings and origins. I love stringing them together. And of course, I love to read. Thinking about it just now, I realize that what I love most is life and the people around me with a special place set aside for my wonderful husband, our adorable dog and our inscrutable cat. It's the world and the people in it that fuels my writing. So thanks to you all for being the amazing beings that you are.

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