Cranky

The term “cranky” in modern conversation means someone is irritable or ill-tempered. Equivalent words include “crusty” or “grumpy.”

Coward

No one throughout history has ever looked with favor upon a “coward.” From the very beginning, it was a term laced with stigma.

The word most likely comes from the Latin term cauda, or tail. Naturally, the image here is that of an animal “turning tail” and running away, or perhaps creeping off with its “tail between its legs.” 

Steerage

Watch James Cameron’s blockbuster film Titanic (1997), and you’ll hear the word “steerage” about a thousand times. No longer used in today’s luxury cruise industry, “steerage” was a staple term aboard nineteenth- and early twentieth-century ocean liners.

Longshoreman/men

Travel to any major port and you’ll see them. Longshoremen are the lifeblood of the shipping industry. 

They’re the ones who load and unload the massive cargo vessels that carry a huge variety of goods into and out of the United States every day. 

As for the word itself, “shoreman” is clear enough. But what about “long”?

Brouhaha

While etymologists aren’t entirely certain where this word came from, the general consensus points to Hebrew, and more specifically, the less literate members of late nineteenth-century Jewish congregations. 

Blurb

The term itself sounds like nonsense talk: blurb. Yet, we use it so much that we rarely pause to give it a second thought. 

Why would we? The word “blurb” is synonymous with those things to which it refers—short, snappy comments that promote a product. 

Stick to your guns

The phrase “stick to your guns” is an old one, dating back to the eighteenth-century British variant, “Stand to your guns.” 

Initially, military field commanders used the expression quite literally. That is, they encouraged their troops to hold their positions and fight rather than retreat.

John Hancock

Born in 1737, American colonist and founding father John Hancock was a man of money and action. He put his inherited fortune to use during the Revolutionary War in an effort to oust the British from Boston and, ultimately, the East Coast of North America.

Copacetic

For those familiar with it, the word “copacetic” is probably most closely associated with the 1950s Jazz and beatnik cultures. As it’s used in everyday language, “copacetic” refers to something being “in order”; in other words, everything is a-okay.

Hello/Hi

Of all the words in the English language, “hello” and “hi” are among the most inconspicuous simply because we use them so often. They are also among that small group of words that require no definition—no explanation. 

Toodle-oo (toodaloo)

The British and the French haven’t always had the best relationship. In fact, they’ve long shared a disdain for one another, which is probably why we have the phrase “toodle-oo.”

Uncouth

When we say that someone is “uncouth,” it means they are rude, lewd, and generally inappropriate. The word comes from the Old English root “cuth,” which meant familiar.