Can You Identify More Than 11 of These Old-Timey Words Written in Cursive?

By: Amanda Monell
Image: HowStuffWorks / Kristy Tucker

About This Quiz

When it comes to listening to public speakers, do you find yourself more interested in those who speak with a broad vocabulary?  Doesn't it make them seem more intelligent in their field?  If so, it shouldn't surprise you that in addition to mathematics, a large vocabulary is one of the signs of high intelligence. However, it should be noted that having a large vocabulary isn't enough. Appreciating the small nuances of these words is also pivotal to being an articulate person. Many professions benefit from having a large vocabulary. Can you imagine going to a class and the professor stammers through a lecture, and when not speaking, the language was so simple, you may consider that the professor has been dumbing down the class?  How about writers?  Their voices and rhythm can be hard to follow if you pick up one of their novels.

Every year, a committee at the Concise Oxford English Dictionary gathers to discuss words that need to be added and to determine which words are obsolete. In 2018, 850 words were added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Some of these words include wordie (someone who loves words), cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, Schnoodle. Do you consider yourself a wordie?  Do you love to read books to appreciate the small nuances of words?  Let's see if you can guess these words written in cursive!


Used in the 1800s, a bodkin was a synonym for a dagger or stiletto. It is also a needle with a blunt edge with a large hole for driving a ribbon through a hem.

In the mid-1600s, the word bridewell was used to describe a prison, usually for petty offenders. Its roots originate in England, where a building (originally royal housing) was converted into a hospital, and later into a prison. This building was located near St. Bridget's Well.

Sounding pretty innocent today, zounds was actually a curse in reference to Jesus Christ's Crucifixion. In particular, it was to wish the injuries that Christ endured on the cross on others.

With its roots in the late 1500s, a magdalen took its name from Mary Magdalene, a follower of Christ. This word could also be used to describe a halfway house (a home for reformed prostitutes).

Not only is izzard the word for the letter z, it is also the last name of famed comedian Eddie Izzard. Eddie is not only a comedian, he's also a political activist and writer.

Today, when you hear bumper, you usually think of a car part. However, in 1677, a bumper usually meant a large glass of alcohol. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, this meaning of bumper comes before the car part.

With Italian roots, cicisbeo was (and still is) used to describe the male lovers of married women. It made its first appearance in the early 1700s. The plural of this word is cicisbei.

A combination of two words from Greek, kamēlos meaning camel and pardalis meaning leopard, Latin scholars created camelopard. It came into use in the 14th century. Maybe it was because of the camel's unique shape and the leopard's spotted coat.

Kyphosis, the disease that causes hunched backs is caused by either a birth deformity, arthritis, or osteoporosis. When women have this hunch, it is usually referred to as a dowager's hump.

Darbies, another word for handcuffs, has English roots. A variant of the obsolete word, Derbies (meaning father's bonds), signifies the rigid indebtedness that one has to their fathers.

Many of our words are a variant of Latin words. In the case of delate, it comes from the Latin word delatus and was first used in the 15th century.

The word froward means disobedient or contrary behavior. In middle English, froward was the opposite of toward. Toward meant (and still means) to move to a person, whereas froward means to face or move away from a person.

Grimalkin was one of the words that Shakespeare had a hand in creating: in one scene of "Macbeth," a witch told her cat, Graymalkin, that she was arriving. In the 1630s, the spelling changed to its modern use.

While there is no origin date for the word herbary, it is similar to many other words that describe locations that hold things: for example, a library is a place that holds books.

While jade is considered a valuable stone by many collectors, it didn't always mean something of value. Sometime ago in England (it is unknown when), the word jade meant broken down horse. It was later used to describe an ill-tempered woman.

Bruit, a synonym for a rumor or report, was first used in the 15th century and is an Anglo-French word meaning noise. So next time there's a big party at the water cooler, maybe you can ask the group to stop bruiting.

First used in 1855, if you were going to get married, you wouldn't want to be offering or getting offered a dot. When this happened, it would mean the dowry wasn't very large: probably the size of the father's paycheck.

If you have a Christmas tree, you can easily describe some of your fancier ornaments as fandangles. It is unknown when this word started being used, and some consider it to be an alternative use of the word fandango.

It is unknown when feminal became popular. However, it is considered a complement to many women. Just like the word feminine, feminal can become a noun (feminality) or a plural noun (feminales).

The word fizgig may also be familiar to some of you '80s babies out there. Even though it is misspelled, Fizzgig was a cute little sprout of a character in the '80s film, "The Dark Crystal."

When it comes to the word gage, many are divided on how to use it. Some use it as a homonym for the word gauge. However, Merriam-Webster encourages users to use the form of gage with the 'u' (gauge). Back in the day, a gage was a token of defiance, something like a glove being thrown on the ground for a duel.

Popsicles and ice cream are best eaten in a frore state. It was first used in the 13th century and has its roots in Middle English from froren, which took its roots from the old English word frēosan.

Another famous Garth? Garth Brooks, a country musician who got his start in the late 1980s. Today, his current net worth is around $330 million, with a $90 million salary.

Intelligencer became a word around 1540. However, the definition was a bit broader than just using it on spies. There are many other people who can give information without losing their lives.

In the United States, about 2 million people either live in a place where plumbing doesn't exist, or where it is impossible to get running water. Be sure to check your potty options before renting a hotel room.

If you've ever been to a party with a chocolate fountain, you've been privy to a kickshaw. A kickshaw is a delicacy or fancily prepared dish. So next time you eat your rack of lamb with meat rub or chocolate mousse, know you're eating a kickshaw.

Lucifers are basically any of the matches you see in stores today: friction matches that have an active ingredient at the tips that help light them. Just don't call them lucifers at a dinner with a religious friend!

The word otiose made its first appearance in 1795, however, its definition was something a little different than its use today: it was an object that was unnecessary and useless.

A Middle French word, popinjay was used to describe the ornate and exotic nature of a parrot. However, today, it is used to describe a person who struts around unnecessarily.

Apparently, people in the 1300s weren't pleased when ants invaded their meals either. Instead of just saying ant, they used pismire, derived from a combination of two words: pisse, meaning urine, and mire, meaning ant.

The inscripton of a word, declaration of love, or poem is called a posy. Based in the 15th century, this word is an alternative spelling of poesy. It is actually the first definition in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for this word. The second? A bouquet of flowers.

Making its first appearance in the 1400s, a mummer was originally someone who performed pantomime. However, that definition eventually ballooned out to include all types of acting. Another meaning? To go to a party in disguise. So on Halloween night, when you go to your parties dressed in costume, enjoy being a mummer.

This word is pretty self-explanatory. Each cup has a brim and when you overfill it, the liquid goes over the brim!

In the 1990s, the show, "Seinfeld," had its own Peterman: Elaine Benes's boss was named J. Peterman. This absurd character was played by John O'Hurley, who would often be found lounging in his fictitious office when he wasn't needed between scenes.

In the 14th century, many would call a fortuneteller or Oracle a pythoness. Why? Because its roots are Greek. Some believe that pythoness is named after the spirit, Pythōn, who practiced divination. Another theory is that it is actually named after the seat in which the Oracle of Delphi sat.

While ribbons play many roles in fashion, a riband has absolutely no purpose at all, aside from sitting still and looking pretty. It made its appearance in the 15th century and was a variant of the Middle English word, riban.

A rover is another word for a pirate. Its origins go back to Middle Dutch, where roven meant to rob. Perhaps that's why so many dogs are named Rover: they steal our hearts!

Perhaps named after a mythical animal that is impervious to flame, the salamander can be used to refer to a portable stove, a cooking device with a broiler, or even a cooking utensil used for browning food. It was first used in the 14th century and it has roots in both middle French and Latin languages.

This is an insanely old word (etymologists place it before the 12th century) and the origins of tapster are unknown. It may make sense, though. Usually a visit to a bartender doesn't end up with clear memories!

First used in around 1520, the word timbrel came from the obsolete English word timbre, meaning small drum. However, like many words in this quiz, timbre has had its definition changed to represent the sound that the tambourines make. Pretty cool, huh?

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