14 Old-Fashioned Ways To Tell Someone Off That We Should Bring Back

Ideally, insulting someone wouldn't be necessary. But sometimes when joking around with our friends, a healthy dose of teasing may be in order, so why not do it in a cheeky way that gives a nod to the past? Enter: old-fashioned insults. They're fun, they're witty, and they'll definitely surprise the person who you may be playfully sparring with.

"Back in the day ... insults used to be pretty humorous," author and life coach Jaya Jaya Myra tells Bustle. "We've gotten pretty blunt and crude as a society about telling people off, but it didn't used to be this way. People used to stick mostly to insulting someone ... in creative ways, which was considered the best way to insult someone. Nowadays, we tell people how to insult themselves (aka, go f yourself, or f-off), without actually saying anything directly about them." On the contrary, all of these insults actually have a meaning — they say something about what the person doing the insulting really thinks of the person being insulted. Plus, some of them have interesting parallels to how we talk today.

The first course of action should almost always be the high road, a playful dig with the right audience can't hurt every now and again.

Here are 14 old-fashioned ways to tell someone off that we should bring back, according to experts.


"Afternoon, Farmer"

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Even though it's 2018, we still all know that farmers are supposed to get up early, right? Anyways, that's exactly where this insult (from the mid-1700s) comes from.

It's a fun, old-timey way to tell someone they're being lazy. So, next time your roommate is procrastinating on cleaning the kitchen or taking out the trash, you can try this on them.



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A blunderbuss is a mid-17th century word for a certain type of gun, but that's not the point. It's also just a really great-sounding insult.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, blunderbuss is the action of doing something without subtlety or precision. As an insult, it's someone who behaves the same. Think: blundering, like that person at Trader Joe's who seems to always end up in the same aisle as you, blocking the way.



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Honestly, so many of these are just plain fun to say. Gongoozler comes from the 1900s, so it's not that old, but it does come from a very particular origin: the Lincolnshire dialect in England.

"Gawn" means "go" and "gooze" means to stare; "gongoozle" is the verb for people who go stare idly at a canal. And while it is no longer the 1970s, and not everyone is from Lincolnshire, it's still a great way to comment on — say — the people walking too slowly on the sidewalk in front of you.



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A fopdoodle is someone of little significance, according to And there are likely, unfortunately, a lot of fopdoodles in your life.

"In the 17th Century, men who were concerned with their appearance — their wigs, clothing, fashion in general, and the impression they made on others were considered fops. They tried to be witty and were unable to engage in any type of conversation that was considered worthwhile by society," speaker and spiritual counselor Davida Rappaport tells Bustle. "... To call someone a fop means you are calling them a fool, but adding 'doodle' to it means you were also calling them [superficial]." You're likely familiar with this sentiment without even knowing it; the song "Yankee Doodle" is insulting a colonial loyalist who "stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni" (aka, pretended to be fancy).

And while people don't wear tricorn hats or feathers anymore, there are certainly still people who put on airs, but are really not worth the time of day.



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You know "chicken-livered," now meet "chicken-hearted." This uniquely American insult, dating back to the 1600s, is basically the same as the liver-based insult, but it packs much more of a punch.

So if someone is acting cowardly, pull out this little phrase. They'll know what you mean. And it sounds so much better than "chicken!" — the old playground insult.



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Attention: The Office fans! This is the historic insult for you. "Dunderhead" is a 17th century insult coming from a Scots word for "resounding noise." So perhaps being a "dunderhead" means that you've got too much noise in your head to pay attention? Or that you're creating a bunch of unnecessary noise yourself?

Whatever it is, it sounds great. And it can be a beacon of hope that The Office writers and producers are exactly as brilliant as they seem, and that they may have reached into old Scottish dialect to find the absolute perfect silly-sounding word for their fictional paper company.



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For those of you from the Northeast, "fribble" is not just a dessert at Friendly's. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a "fribble" is a frivolous or foolish person, or a thing of no importance. It comes from an obsolete 17th century verb, and sounds absolutely wonderful as it rolls off your tongue.

So next time someone asks you about that good-for-nothing that you dated for a month? It's time to sprinkle in an old-timey insult for descriptive flavor.



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You know the word "bed," and in 2018, "swerve" has taken on a whole new meaning. Because of this, it's the perfect time to revive this old-fashioned term for a cheater.

"The word bedswerver was believed to be invented by William Shakespeare, possibly coined from the Dutch words ‘bed' and ‘zwerver.’ The word zwerver means a wanderer, so the combined word represents someone who wanders from [their partner] into another bed," Rappaport says. Shakespearean insults combined with modern slang? Ideal.



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Know someone who's constantly enjoying themselves, without doing anything worthwhile? Not in the fun way, in the way that makes them not so great to be around? Well, they might be a gadabout.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a gadabout is a "habitual pleasure-seeker." The word doesn't mean social butterfly, though, it's origins are much less charming.

Gadabout, the Merriam Webster Dictionary says, might instead come from the word "gadfly." "Gadfly is a term used for any of a number of winged pests (such as horseflies) that bite or annoy livestock," the Merriam Webster Dictionary says. And although it's not totally clear that this is where gadabout actually comes from, it sounds good. So next time Suzie at the office is wandering around instead of getting her work done, you can say, "Suzie, stop being such a gadabout and get back to your desk."



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One thing that old-timey insults have a bunch of that modern ones don't quite share: syllables. Plus, this particular insult, which means, "expressing opinions on matters outside the scope of one's knowledge or expertise," according to the Oxford English Dictionary, packs a double-whammy of effectiveness and irony. If the person you put down with this word pretends to know what you mean, they're probably proving their own point.

This 19th-century insult comes from a Latin phrase that, "the cobbler should not judge beyond his shoe." And goodness knows that people are still judging way beyond their breadth all these centuries later.



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This word means exactly what it sounds like: someone who constantly grumbles. But its origins are even more interesting than just putting a little pizzaz on the word "grumble."

According to Green's Dictionary of Slang, the word comes from a pun on two 17th-century religious sects, the Muggletonians and the Grindletonians, and came to mean someone who constantly grumbles about "the state of the country." Although in 2018 there is a lot to grumble about, it's still a good word for someone who won't stop complaining about their morning commute.



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You probably already know what "wiffle-waffle" means, just saying it out loud. It's someone who can't make up their mind.

"The word wiffle-waffle first appeared in the 16th Century and is more than likely British in origin ... You can consider it similar to the expression '…hems and haws,'" Rappaport says. The good thing about an insult like this is that it won't sound too foreign coming out of your mouth; you'll get the point across right away.


"Rat Bag"

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This 19th-century insult is particularly funny because it harkens back to the amazing Friends episode where Paul Rudd's character Mike decides to change his name to "Crap Bag." This insult isn't any more intellectual than his made-up name, but it does come from some creative old-time Australians.

So next time you're around someone unpleasant, try this out. They'll get it.



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From an old French (via Spanish and Arabic) word for parrot, "popinjay" is a very old term for someone vain or conceited — especially someone who dresses or behaves in an over-the-top way, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Like a fopdoodle but even more extravagant, a popinjay is someone you might encounter at brunch, the club, or even your high school reunion.

And while this insult might take a little longer to catch on than some of the others, once you start saying it, you probably won't be able to stop.

It's always important to pick your battles and make sure you're careful when dishing out the burns. But sometimes, a little dig (that isn't even a curse word!) can go a long way. And even without actually using any of these in conversation, you've learned a little bit about the English language. Go you.