7 Bizarre Words That Originated in the U.S.


The U.S. may be young, but it’s already got some amazing contributions to the English language. These 7 weird words originated in the good ol’ U.S. of A. How’s that for patriotism?

1. Lollapalooza

lol·la·pa·loo·za [lol-uh-puh-loo-zuh], noun.

  • an extraordinary or unusual thing, person, or event; an exceptional example or instance.

“That party last night was a right lollapalooza!”

This slang term showed up in America around the turn of the 20th century. Much like many things Americans do, no one is sure why.

2. Sockdolager

sock·dol·a·ger [sok-dol-uh-jer], noun.

  • something unusually large, heavy, etc.
  • a decisive reply, argument, etc.
  • a heavy, finishing blow

“His right jab is a real sockdolager.”

Apparently the hip thing to do in 19th century America was to mix Latin roots with slang to create new, ridiculous words. Language scholars think it’s a combination of sock, “to punch,” and doxology, “the end of a service.” It also has a place in history: ‘sockdolager’ is thought to be one of the last words President Abraham Lincoln heard before he was assassinated at Ford Theater.

3. Catawampus

cat·a·wam·pus [kat-uh-wom-puh

s], adjective.

  • askew; awry.
  • positioned diagonally; cater-cornered.
  • diagonally; obliquely (adverb)

“We took a shortcut and walked catawampus across the field.”

If this seems like something they’d say back in the day down in the bayou, you’re probably right. ‘Catawampus’ most likely originated in the South/Midwest of the U.S. around the mid 1800s. The ‘cat’ part is likely a reference to the phrase ‘kitty-corner’, though what ‘wampus’ means is anyone’s guess.


4. Hornswoggle

horn·swog·gle [hawrn-swog-uh

l] verb (used with object), horn·swog·gled, horn·swog·gling.

  • to swindle, cheat, hoodwink, or hoax.

“He hornswoggled me out of my last dollar!”

Much like lollapalooza, this word just kind of showed up in the U.S. with little clue as to why. All we know is that ‘hornswoggle’ first showed up around 1825, probably from a very angry, hornswoggled American.

5. Foofaraw

foo·fa·raw [foo-fuh-raw], noun.

  • a great fuss or disturbance about something very insignificant.
  • an excessive amount of decoration or ornamentation, as on a piece of clothing, a building, etc.

“She’s making a foofaraw over his 3rd place trophy.”

Apparently, around the 1930s, people in the American West needed a better word than what the English language provided to describe the showy and fussy situations of the world. ‘Foofaraw’ is thought to be a mutation of the Spanish fanfaron, meaning “show-off.”

6. Discombobulate

dis·com·bob·u·late [dis-kuh

m-bob-yuh-leyt], verb (used with object), dis·com·bob·u·lat·ed, dis·com·bob·u·lat·ing.

  • to confuse or disconcert; upset; frustrate

“The speaker was completely discombobulated by the hecklers.”

Yes, it’s a real word, and it’s as American as apple pie. Originally the word was discombobracate, then discomboobulate (go ahead, giggle), until it eventually evolved into the form we know nowIt first showed up in the U.S. somewhere from 1825-1830 and is probably an elaboration of ‘discompose’ or ‘discomfort’. The definition couldn’t fit any better.

7. Bumptious

bump·tious [buhmp-shuh

s], adjective.

  • offensively self-assertive: a bumptious young upstart.

“He was awfully bumptious when he introduced himself.”

With a new century comes new words it seems, as ‘bumptious’ showed up at the turn of the 19th century. This might’ve been a useful word to describe the flood of politicians that began a West Side Story finger-snapping scenario, known today as the U.S. party system. Or maybe that’s a bumptious assumption…

Seven Wacky Words Born in the USA | Dictionary Reference

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Featured photo credit: Recombobulation Area/JoePhoto on Flickrvia

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