Weird Words: 5 mistakes that turned into new words and phrases

Butt and buck-nakedEnglish teachers will tell you what’s right and what’s wrong about your spelling, grammar and punctuation. What’s interesting is that many of the words and phrases we use began life as mistakes anyway.

In this month’s “Weird Words”, I’m looking at 5 words and phrases which no longer invite any attention from the teacher’s red pen, but really – technically – ought to.

“Mum, I dropped a pease on the floor.”

‘Pea’ is not technically a word. ‘Pease’ is the original, singular form of the little, green, spherical vegetable. This is why the nursery rhyme is called Pease Porridge Hot.

Over time, people started to think that ‘pease’ was the plural, so were dropping the ‘se’. The pea was born.

“All the boys looked shamefast.”

‘Shamefast’ is the original word. It meant ‘shy’, ‘bashful’ and ‘modest’. Because people associate being shy, bashful or embarrassed with certain facial expressions, they misheard ‘fast’ as ‘faced’. Hence ‘shamefaced’ became a part of the language.

“Goodnight, sweetard.”

Your lovely husband or wife is actually your ‘sweetard’. Just like ‘wizard’, ‘coward’ and ‘drunkard’. ‘Sweetard’ meant ‘one who is sweet’. Over time people started mishearing the ‘ard’ as ‘heart’. This mutation was reinforced by the association between your heart and your loved ones.

“I’ve been trying to curry Favel with the mother-in-law.”

The original version of the phrase ‘curry favour’, meaning to suck up to someone, is ‘curry Favel’. Favel was a cunning horse in a 14th century French poem, and to ‘curry Favel’ meant to stroke or groom him with a curry comb.

Poor Favel was eventually forgotten, replaced by the similar sounding ‘favour’ which people unfamiliar with the original poem thought made more sense.

“Why are you buck-naked?”

This is a newer change; most people use the phrase ‘butt-naked’, but some linguists will still insist that ‘buck-naked’ is the correct form and ‘butt-naked’ is a mishearing.

The new version has been reinforced by the obvious connection between nakedness and seeing a person’s unclothed rear end. And since nobody knows where the earlier ‘buck-naked’ comes from, it seems that ‘butt-naked’ is here to stay.

More Weird Words next month. And if you liked this blog, please like and share it!

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