an unmanly man; a mollycoddle (a pampered or effeminate boy or man) Literally means 'bread soaked in milk.' Chaucer was among the earliest to use this word to describe an unmanly man (presumably one whose fiber had softened).
The modern cousin of this word, milquetoast, comes from Caspar Milquetoast, a timid cartoon character from the 1920s.
bumpkin; hick Comes from a time when eating cured pork was less popular than it is today.
a fawning subordinate; a suck-up Someone who licks another person's spit is pretty low indeed.
killjoy; someone who takes a pessimistic view of things Black crepe fabric was once an important part of mourning ritual. It was sewn into dresses and veils, wrapped in bands around hats and arms, and draped over doors.
We can speculate that to those who started using this insult, a _____ was a 'killjoy' almost in a literal sense – the sort of person who took pleasure in a funeral.
a demon assuming female form in order to have sexual intercourse with men in their sleep The word is also used figuratively, as in this Jezebel.com headline: 'This Week In Tabloids: Courtney the Evil Maneater _____ Will Devour Bachelor Ben.'
The female version of an incubus. Originating in medieval European folklore, with similar beings in many cultures, they appear in modern fiction, video games, and South Park.
simpleton, fool The first part of this word is probably a shortening of 'an innocent' (with the 'n' from 'an' getting transferred to the noun) and the second part of the word adds punch.
Writers who have used the word include J.R.R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings: 'You're nowt but a _____, Sam Gamgee.'
shyster; a lawyer whose methods are underhanded or disreputable The second part of this word once meant 'lawyer' in English. According to one theory, it may come from 'Fugger,' the name of a successful family of 15th- and 16th-century German merchants and financiers. Germanic variations of 'fugger' were used for the wealthy and avaricious, as well as for hucksters.
a man looked upon with humorous contempt or mock pity Originally referred to 'a bald head' or 'a bald-headed man,' which the peeled vegetable resembles. The mocking or humorous aspect followed.
a swaggering braggart or boaster Comes from the Spanish word meaning 'fire,' and, ultimately, the Latin, meaning 'to void as excrement.' The word probably referred to the ship's cannon fire.
a Spanish ship captured in 1579 by the English admiral Sir Francis Drake. The word may have developed its insulting sense because some sailors – either the ones who lost the ship or the ones who won it – did some serious bragging.
lout; a stupid, rude or awkward person Originally a British word for 'a thick gruel.' Riffing on this, apparently, Americans later used the word to refer to an ugly, boggy mess. It's unclear how the word developed its insulting sense, but perhaps the evolution was similar to the current use of words like thick and dense to mean 'stupid.'
a person who talks foolishly at length The word appears in a mid-seventeenth century Scottish ballad called Maggie Lauder in which the fair maiden bids her would-be suitor, 'Begone ye hallanshaker / Jog on your gait, ye ___ ...' [Get lost, you vagabond / Be on your way, you ____...].
Scottish: The second part of the word means 'a contemptible person'.
a spiritless coward 'Archie ... was no ____, and had proved the fact on many occasions during the days when the entire German army seemed to be picking on him personally ...' (Indiscretions of Archie, 1921)
Comes from the Latin pullus, meaning 'young of an animal.'
shrew; an ill-tempered, scolding woman A review of the movie Black Swan describes the main character's mother as, 'a real piece of work, an unhappy stage _____ out of Tennessee Williams whose dreams for her daughter are etched into the bitter, melting beauty of her aging face.' (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly, December 30, 2010)
May be a modification of the French meaning 'old horse' or 'gaunt woman.'
a dirty rascal; scoundrel; wretch This seventeenth-century coinage even sounds nasty.
The first part is an English dialectal word, means 'stain' or 'sully,' and most likely comes from an obsolete Dutch word meaning 'to walk through mud or mire.'
a boastful and self-important person; a strutting little fellow Probably comes from kockeloeren, an obsolete Dutch dialect verb meaning 'to crow.'
an excessively faultfinding person He was a character in an 18th century novel. He was a traveler who satirized the author of Travels through France and Italy, a hypercritical guidebook of that time.
an unprincipled but shrewd person The story of its origin remains unknown, but this word was first used in the nasty politics of 19th century America. One definition of the word dates to 1895, when a newspaper editor explained 'a _____ is a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles....'
a stubborn person who insists on making an error in spite of being shown that it is wrong Supposedly, this insult originated with an illiterate priest who said this word rather than the correct word for 'we have taken' in Latin during mass (the correct word is exactly the same except the first letter is an s.) When he was corrected, the priest replied that he would not change the way he pronounced it.
an awkward, gawky young man Its origin is unknown, although theories about its ancestry include hobble and hob (a term for 'a clownish lout').
a foolish or absentminded person The meaning of the original word was a false pregnancy, a growth in the womb supposedly influenced by a bad moon. It then grew a sense outside the womb: simpleton. It also morphed into a literary word for a deformed monster.
For instance, in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Stephano entreats Caliban, '_____, speak once in your life, if thou beest a good _____.'