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The Top 10: Most English words

From codswallop to trundle, the most culturally English signifiers in the language of Tyndale, Cranmer and Shakespeare 

John Rentoul
Saturday 23 April 2016 12:09
A palaver: the submission of Asantehene Prempeh, king of the Ashanti, to the British, 1896, Ghana
A palaver: the submission of Asantehene Prempeh, king of the Ashanti, to the British, 1896, Ghana

Keir Shiels was trying to think of a more culturally English word than bothersome, when Ben Stanley nominated “peckish” and suggested I should compile a Top 10, a companion list to Most English Remarks from two years ago

1. Codswallop. Dates from only the 1960s, according to the Oxford Dictionary, which surprised me. Nominated by John Peters.

2. Flabbergasted. Sacha Langton-Gilks’s gast has been much flabbered.

3. Flibbertigibbet. Sarah Terry reminds me that Tony Blair was described as such by Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff.

4. Moreish. A word that became popular only the 1990s, offered by Ian Rapley. ‏

5. Palaver. Imported to English in the 18th century, “a talk between tribespeople and traders” (above), from Portuguese palavra, “word”. Amalia Sabonchian says: “I’m an Aussie, never heard it before I got here.”

6. Pop, as a verb. “Without which,” according to Leyla Sanai, “air stewards and stewardesses, and nurses and doctors, would be flummoxed.” (Flummoxed itself worthy of an honourable mention.)

7. Quite. “‏You’ve not mastered the English of the English until you know and can use at least 12 meanings,” as Damian Counsell points out.

8. Rather. As in “rather bothersome”, “rather peckish” and “I’m really rather tired of listening to your excuses, Handley”, says Simon LeVay.

9. Sorry, says Martin Sykes-Haas. Sorry.

10. ‏Trundle. Wheeled in by Pseudoreality Rules.

No room alas for Albus Dumbledore's little list, when he welcomed pupils to a new year at Hogwarts: I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!

Next week: Films whose central plot device has been rendered incomprehensible by progress (Road Trip turns on someone having posted a video cassette to his girlfriend)

Coming soon: People whose first name begins their surname (such as Mo Mowlam and Kris Kristofferson)

Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to

Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, from Politics to Pop, is available from all good bookshops and at just £3.79 on Kindle

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