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10 Old Fashioned Insults That Are Totally Meaningless


If you’ve ever given any thought into why Great Aunt Edna thinks Aunt Irene is a “half breed,” why Uncle John insists Cousin Joey is a bit “touched,” or why your beloved grandfather claims his neighbor is “half a bubble off of plumb,” you’re not alone. Whether it’s a family member (or many), a stranger at Wal-mart, or just someone on the street, chances are great you’ve heard these phrases and more. You know, the variety that make you stop and wonder “What the hell are you saying and should I be offended?” If you’re curious about where some of these crazy phrases derive from and what they truly mean, look no further than here with our list of 10 Old Fashioned Insults That Are Totally Meaningless.

1. Crazy As A Hoot Owl

We don’t know how crazy a hoot owl is but we do know people have been mentioning the phrase since c. 1880 to 1885. With origins traced in Americanism, a hoot owl is defined as any owl which hoots. And insanity has a broad spectrum of classifications. None of which are formally categorized in owl standards.

2. Half A Bubble Off Of Plumb

The combination of Redneck and carpentry wisdom gave birth to the colloquial backwoods phrase “Half A Bubble Off Of Plumb.” This reference to the bubble in a carpenter’s level when the alignment of an object is just a touch off kilter from the horizontal and/or vertical flush point. In other words, this saying was a perfect fit for the crazy, giddy, and eccentric type.

3. Half Breed

During 1762, folks were narrow minded and highly judgmental. They didn’t take at all to interracial couples nor their children. So, the holier than thou folks offensively labeled children of mixed offspring “half breeds.” When the phrase was coined, it was a direct slam toward children whose parents were of American Indian and Caucasian ancestry and eventually spread to other races. This term derived from the “half blood” which originated c. 1600.

4. Stick Up Artist

The recent discovery of a news headline with the antiquated headline “Stick Up Artist” left me wondering what the hell that was (other than something my grandmother said twenty years ago.) Turns out a stick up artist is a thief who “robs someone at gunpoint.” And back in the day, thieves apparently declared “Stick Up” when they were holding weapons toward their victims. At least that’s what they showed in the movies and television during the years that followed since the phrase derived at some point c. 1846.

5. Peckerhead

At the turn of the twentieth century (specifically 1902), just over two hundred years or so after the term “pecker” originated, people threw the seemingly innocuous word which literally means “to peck” next to the word “head” and the result was a ready made insult. Worsened by the invention of electricity, people dubbed the word “peckerhead” to identify an electric motor terminal connection box. Given a history, backstory, and evolution of this term, it eventually relayed the grinding functions of a person with a penis for brains who is so devoid of social skill that many blame inner sensory malfunctions of the mind.

6. Touched In The Head

In the late 1880s, people who were slightly deranged and a bit crazy were often described as “touched in the head.” Mental illness is no laughing matter and fortunately this phrase went the way of the 8 track a few years back. Unless, of course, you’re not hip enough to refrain from social ignorance.

7. Lickspittle

Folks back in the day had something to say about everyone. In 1741, the most offensive way to describe a parasitic leech was by calling him or her a “lick-spittle.” By definition, the person was so lowly they would literally or metaphorically lick the dribble from the lips of a person in charge. This phrase evolved to likely inspire what is known by modern definition as a “suck up.”

8. Retard

Ancient Latins in the early 1500s gave the world “retardare” or the “fact or action of making slower in movement or time.” This word morphed into the 1788 sense of “retardation or delay.” Just under two hundred years later, American English transferred the word into an offensive jab at people with Down’s Syndrome or also a plain idiot fool. Fortunately for the sake of humanity, most individuals (except for the profanely ignorant) no longer use this term.

9. Twerp

The uncertain origins of the “diminutive in size and small in mind persons of relative insignificance and able to spur massive contempt from others” (aka the insult “twerp) is a mystery. Some attribute J.R.R. Tolkien for coining the insult during 1910 with his name T.W. Earp. Others believe the word traces back to American slang of the 1870s. Still others think maybe the word came from Middle English’s “dwerf” and Low German’s “twarg.” And a few may think the word was born in London to describe a variety of pigeons that flew from the English city to Antwerp.

10. Bint

At the end of the 19th century, British soldiers occupying Egypt were introduced to the derogatory, step above “bitch,” and ironically almost affectionate term for their “bit/s on the side” or “girlfriend/s” with bint. The first known usage of the word traces back to 1855 Arabic and is rooted in meaning to “female or daughter.” Nowadays it’s British slang with implied disparaging offensiveness. Though still in the lexicon, perhaps it should be eliminated.

What are old timey insults?
Old timey insults may sound like nonsense to the uninitiated, but there is always a story behind these colorful backhanded comments. Some date back centuries and reference tools or circumstances that seem foreign to us today. Others are byproducts of foreign wars, and were brought home by soldiers who absorbed the language and customs of the areas where they were stationed.

Next time you hear that someone is a bint or a lickspittle, you’ll know you just heard one of many old timey insults that remain popular today.

What are old-fashioned insults?
Old fashioned insults are those backhanded verbal slaps that were popular with earlier generations but continue to be part of lively conversation today. These jabs are often rooted in common processes and activities of yesteryear.

For example, if your grandmother declares that someone is “madder than a wet setting hen,” you instinctively know to stay out of the way. If someone is declared to be “dumber than a sack of hammers,” you may not want to trust him with important decisions.



Back in the day, it was considered taboo for a woman to raise an illegitimate child without a father in the form of a husband. In fact, in the early 1300s it was such a scandal that people labeled the “acknowledged child of a nobleman by a woman other than his wife” a bastard. The term derives from the Old French likely sourced to the phrase “fils de bast” meaning “packsaddle son” or the means of conceiving on an improvised bed (frequently a saddle since traveling by horseback was once the only mode of transport). The word is also Proto-Germanic based with ties to “bansitz” meaning barn and implying a person born of low standing. The term is rather fell into uselessness (despite the frequency it is still used) given the number of children born out of wedlock in many countries. Bastard is now irrelevant like marriage is to some.

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