Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Word of the Day
Billingsgate (noun)
Pronunciation: ['bi-lings-geyt]
Definition: Nathan Bailey, in 'An universal etymological English dictionary' (1721) defined a billingsgate as "a scolding impudent Slut," but the word has gone on to refer, as well, to the stream of abusive speech used by these impudent women. Today it may refer to a woman who uses abusive language or the abusive language itself.
Usage: Today's word is no longer capitalized, having been thoroughly commonized by now. Its eponym is the Billingsgate fish market in London, which has now moved into a modern new building where most of the sales staff have improved their speech. Here is another word that ties even more vividly that others to our history.
Suggested Usage: Of course, we suggest you never use billingsgate yourself but if you would prefer using an authentic English word instead of the usual borrowings from French and Latin, such as "vulgar," "profane," "abusive," in referring to it, this is the word for you: "If I ever hear that kind of billingsgate emerge from your mouth again you will be grounded for life!" Of course, it is empty hyperbole, but it is an attention-grabber, isn't it? "I love golf but 18 rounds of a billingsgate sermon from George is more than I can abide."
Etymology: No one really knows how Billingsgate received its name but it was one of the two water-gates to London from the Thames (between the Tower and the erstwhile London Bridge) when the open fish market was proclaimed there in 1699. The Billingsgate fish market thereafter became known not only for the smelly fruits of the sea on sale there, but for the rancid language of the fishwives who mongered them. In 'Vanity Fair,' Thackeray wrote "Mr. Osborne . . . cursed Billingsgate with an emphasis worthy of the place" and by 1799 even Thomas Jefferson had acquired the word: "We disapprove the constant billingsgate poured on them officially." Now it is your turn. –Dr. Language,

I do crossword puzzels and love to play scrabble, but, I have NEVER heard of this word before......

1 comment:

  1. I've never heard this word, either, but what a great one! (I'm also guilty of it!)