Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Most Quaint-Sounding Cause of Barf

It’s hard to vomit gracefully. For one, there’s the noise — the vocal wretching followed by that wet slap. There’s also the undignified sprint to the toilet or sink or unattended fedora. There’s the whole Jackson Pollock-y result of it all. There’s the fact that vomiting serves as both an announcement of both everything you’ve eaten in the recent past (“You should chew your Goldfish crackers more thoroughly!”) as well as how bad your insides smell. (In certain cases, it can also testify to the vomiter’s inability to withstand Tilt-a-Whirls or celebratory shots.) In short, there’s a lot that can go wrong and you need all the help you can get.

So the next time your partially digested food starts rumbling up your throat in a daring escape from the humid, squishy prison that is you, consider this charming word to describe your illness.
collywobbles (KAH-lee-wah-bulz) — noun: 1. a stomachache. 2. anxiety or fear.
I mean, how great is this word? How cute? It could be a character in some picture book for British children. Maybe Mr. Collywobbles would be a nervous hare who discreetly in the background of every scene. I’d guess that the term was an antiquated British one, but it’s apparently used in all English-speaking lands — just not often enough.

The origin is uncertain. While Etymonline calls it a “fanciful formation from colic and wobble,” The Phrase Finder posits that it could have some connection to colly, meaning “coal-colored,” with the connection being that breathing coal-colored, coal-infused air actually made a lot of people sick. Wobble, by the way, is a word I forget exists until I actually think about it. Nothing against it. I sort of sounds like baby talk, I guess, but it’s a full-fledged word that refers to all manner of unsteady action, literal and otherwise.


It’s also a video game, apparently. The game may not be etymologically appropriate.

Previous words of the week after the jump.
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