Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day 229

The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the current health crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored….


This is a word still in use, although more commonly spelled numbskull today, defined by Grose as “a stupid fellow”. The word has been in use since at least the late seventeenth century, a combination of the word ‘numb’ meaning deprived of sensation and ‘skull’ as in, well, skull (OK, word origin here isn’t hard for anyone to work out).

This interested me from Ngram (clicking on the image makes it larger), the usage of the words numbskull, numskull, numbscull and numscull over the last couple of centuries. What’s likely is that the next generation will spell this word as numskull, that ‘b’ perhaps being permanently lost.