A few days ago, HH tweeted this:
It’s one of those words that, if you’re not careful, could be taken in a very, very questionable direction. But there are plenty of words that don’t even have to be mispronounced to raise eyebrows—they’re just straight-up dirty. Or, at least, that’s how it might seem.
Peniaphobia, for instance, is nothing more than a fear of poverty and destitution. Pissasphalt is a type of bitumen. A tittynope is a tiny crumb or a portion of something left over after all the rest has been used or consumed. A cockchafer is a type of beetle. A cock-bell an icicle. In fact, whether you’re talking about assart or spunk-water (you can thank Tom Sawyer for that one), there are quite a few words in the English language that sound rude, but really—genuinely—aren’t.
So brace yourselves, because it’s ten words precisely like those that are the subject of this week’s YouTube video:
If you haven’t had your fill, there are nearly 100 words like these for your perusal over on Mental Floss, any one of which could have made the final cut here. One word that didn’t, however, and that perhaps needs a little more explanation, is this:
The key to this word (and several others like it) is that the word sluttish originally meant just “untidy” or “slovenly”, while labelling someone (of either sex—Chaucer describes a man as sluttish in the Canterbury Tales) as a slut once simply implied that they were messy or disorganised.
But by the end of the fifteenth century that meaning had begun to broaden. Now it was people’s characters and morals—and, wholly unfairly, women’s morals in particular—that were being described as sluttish if they were loose or disreputable, and it’s from there that the word’s modern connotations eventually emerged.
The older use of slut and sluttish to mean “untidy” survived right through to the early 1900s, giving the word coverslut more than enough time to emerge in the language in the mid-1600s. Essentially, it referred to nothing more than a garment warn to disguise untidy clothes underneath, or to protect your clothes from messy work or chores.
So despite appearances, it was really nothing more than an apron.