Our language has lost some marvellous words along the way. Mawwormy was an adjective used to describe someone being picky or the act of fault finding. It owed its origin to a character in Isaac Bickerstaffe’s play of 1769, The Hypocrite. Perhaps being mawwormy is to call a dog that is reluctant to fight a meater, one that only bites into meat.
Advertising has long made its mark in popular speech. A mustard plaster referred to a dismal, doleful, pallid young man and was often used in the form of “put a mustard plaster on his chest”, an attempt to liven him up. The origin of this phrase came from a song written by celebrated music hall and pantomime writer, E L Blanchard, in association with and to promote Colman Mustard. Perhaps the youth referred to knew that his elm is grown, a premonition of imminent death. Elm wood was the most common material coffins were made from.
A Norfolk Howard was a euphemism for a frequent nighttime companion, the bed bug. It owed its origin, James Ware records in his Passing English of a Victorian Era, to a chap called Buggey who advertised in the newspapers his change of name to Norfolk Howard. As well as producing a bit of slang to describe a bed bug, Buggey’s actions provoked a wave of sympathy in the newspapers of the time for people who were saddled with objectionable or vexatious surnames.
The Times even went so far as to print a list of over a hundred surnames that it considered to be vexatious. These included Asse, Belly, Cheese, Dunce, Drinkmilke, Flashman, Bungler, Fatt, Clodde, Demon, Fiend, Funck, Hagg, Holdwater, Juggs, Idle, Kneebone, Lazy, Leakey, Milksop, Honeybum, Pisse, Pricksmall, Pighead, Poopy, Quicklove, Rottengoose, Sprat, Squibb, Shittel, Swine, Silly, Spattle, Teate, Vile, and Whale. How many possessed these surnames and how many followed Buggey’s example is not recorded.