256 - Tosspottery


A tosspot word is formed with a verb and a noun. The noun is the (direct) object of the verb. I collect several here, since not only are they fun, they are useful. Tosspot is itself an example such word, being someone who drank excessively, tossing pots of ale down their throat. In British English tosspot has become a contemptible person, and I suggest that from this we derive the term tosser, which now has a more specific deplorable meaning. The same word in Oz is much friendlier.

As AWAD observes: pickpocket is a tosspot word because a pickpocket picks pockets; repairman is not, because a repairman does not repair a man, unless you call your doctor a repairman (better to call him or her a sawbones). The habit found in the academic texts is to call this a scarecrow noun. How delicate; how much more appropriate tosspot is, though one could argue that both terms are sufficiently archaic and inherently a little soiled, though for different reasons. A repairman is a man who repairs, so this suggest swe have at least two classes of such compounded words.

Among the AWAD responses for the week, Jul23 2018, Denis Toll points out that while scarecrow scares crows and breakfast breaks ones fast…., a flapjack doesn’t flap jacks. He suggests that a flap jack is a second grade tosspot, rather than reject it from the collection.

So, Class I tosspots include:

From AWAD, [1] Sawbones (a doctor, who, once upon a time, did just that). Turncoat, turnkey, turnscrew, telltale, pastime, spoilsport, killjoy, scofflaw, fussbudget, jerkwater2, catchpenny, cutpurse, scapegrace, slackwater (turn of the tide), breakwater, catchpenny {a cheap publication that catches your pennies), a lickspittle (so determined to flatter that he will actually lick.…) [3] We can add [4, blogroll] makebate, pinchgut, smellfungus [5]. From [7] Skinflint, spoilsport, fussbudget, stretchgut, lackland, nipcake, stretchhalter (not a horse but the same as) stretchhemp (someone who ought to be hanged), stretchneck (to pillory, not to be hanged, it appears), stretchrope (bellringer), catchfly (campion, a flycatcher), nip crumb, nipcheese, nip farthingtattletale, thatchgallows, lackbeard (youth), lacklatin (same as lacklearning), lackall (you guessed it) lackbrain, lackmind, lacksense, lackthought and lackwit. Still from [7] we have the more modern, meaning still in use verb-all variety; catchall, cure-all  coverall, overalls, carryall, heal-all (a plant,  pictured at the top). From [8] I spotted a shearwater (the bird does that in flight), dreadnought (originally a coat, then a ship), makeweight, rotgut. I add towtruck, wardrobe, be-all and end-all (perhaps not so, with the hyphen), stopgap (adj), shuteye, ceasefire, lockjaw, dodgeball, knee-jerk (adj), lacklustre (adj), righthanded (adj) …

Source [4] CS Perryess, who has responded much as I do here but with whom I disagree: the noun is defined as the direct object, so from that list  breakfast, campsite, flyway, killjoy, playhouse, rattletrap, repairman [reject], scarecrow, sharecropper, telltale, turncoat,   though too many of these are Class IIs: driveway, driveway, skateboard, washcloth, waitstaff, watchdog, watchtower.  Perhaps it would be more healthy to distinguish between  the scarecrow words and tosspot words, making just one of these (I’d say the tosspot) requiring the direct object. Edgar de Jarmac feels that the term tosspot should be reserved for expressions constructed by combining a verb and a noun to indicate a person’s character.   


 a side road taken to avoid a toll road. Going through Gloucester into Wales so as to avoid the tolls on the M4 and M48; using the A446 but not the M6 to miss the M6 toll road near to Birmingham. Staying on the A1 near Newcastle rather than taking the tunnel on the A19 (which is often quicker). One of the smaller ones is Whitchurch Bridge crossing the Thames near Pangbourne.    Stan Shunpike is the conductor on the Knight bus to Azkaban, as Harry Potter fans will know. Britain doesn’t have many toll roads any more [RAC list and uk.gov list] Almost all are river crossings, so there is not much alternative and, therefore few shunpikes remain.

Denis Toll’s suggestion distinguishes that the jack that is flapped, that the bag is clutched, the rail is grabbed, the tale is told. That means, I think, that the object is not direct. It also places repairman in the class. Here are some Class IIs, with repetition:

pushchair - the chair is pushed not the pusher; wheelbarrow doesn’t wheel barrows; flapjack doesn’t flap jacks; clutchbag doesn’t clutch bags but is the bag that is clutched; a  grabrail is the rail is grabbed, not doing the grabbing; a  plaything is a thing played with not a thing that plays - which would be, say, a kitten or a child; a pressstud is pressed not doing the pressing; a picklock is used for picking locks, it is not the person, who would be a lockpicker. See theory, below.

makebate - someone who causes discord and dissension

campsite [4] - a site at which one camps. The camp is sited here, but if a saw bones saws bones, does a campsite camps sites?

scofflaw - someone who scoffs at the law, historically someone who ignored prohibition. A good word to use to describe someone exceeding the speed limit. By implication there is a repeated or habitual element to the behaviour.

healall herb prunella vulgaris, quoting : Prunella Vulgaris is an edible and medicinal herb, and can be used in salads, soups, stews, or boiled as a pot herb. Used as an alternative medicine for centuries on just about every continent in the world, and for just about every ailment known to man, Heal-All is something of a panacea, it does seem to have some medicinal uses that are constant.   It goes on,  A cold water infusion of the freshly chopped or dried and powdered leaves is a very tasty and refreshing beverage, weak infusion of the plant is an excellent medicinal eye wash for sties and pinkeye. Prunella is taken internally as a medicinal tea in the treatment of fevers, diarrhoea, sore mouth and throat, internal bleeding, and weaknesses of the liver and heart. Clinical analysis shows it to have an antibacterial action, inhibiting the growth of pseudomonas, Bacillus typhi, E. coli, Mycobacterium tuberculi, which supports its use as an alternative medicine internally and externally as an antibiotic and for hard to heal wounds and diseases. It is showing promise in research for herpes, cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and many other maladies. Wikipedia has its usual helpful content: Self-heal [another name for heal-all), along with  woundwort, heart-of-the-earth, carpenter’s herb, brownwort and blue curls)  is edible: the young leaves and stems can be eaten raw in salads; the plant in whole can be boiled and eaten as a potherb; and the aerial parts of the plant can be powdered and brewed in a cold infusion to make a beverage.

wraprascal - is in the title of Verbatim, below, so I tried to look it up. A wraprascal is a long loose greatcoat from the late 18th century, imitating the similar coats worn by much poorer people. I was hoping it was a word for the reversed exocentric noun with the verb last (ratrun for example). I’ll carry on calling it a pottoss, for now. Though Vicki Land says that’s a potus, below in brown. I’ve been trumped.

It is a pity this word form has fallen into disuse. Perhaps we can resurrect it?

A repairman is a man who repairs, not one who is repaired, so this is not  a tosspot word at all. A drawbridge is a bridge. So there are compound words that look like tosspots that fail to fulfil the definition. How confusing, how typically English. What do we do; redefine the rule - of course what we need to do is refine the modelling. See analysis, below (there because only those who persevere will reach it).  More on this in a little while…

Catherine Campbell In Volume 5, no. 1 of the late, much-lamented journal "Verbatim", there is an entire article by Andrew E. Norman with the title: "Tosspots and Wraprascals". Unfortunately, it's not available online, but is in the book "Verbatim", edited by Erin McKean, published in 2001.

Offerings of new words, not from me but from AWAD discussions:

Braglie - One who pats themselves on the back constantly for qualities or accomplishments that are obviously untrue. [Chip Taylor, modified by Denis Toll]

Vicki Lane What if a grabpsy, a manglespeech, a boastself, a fleejob, an ignorefact, and a toadyputin were POTUS? Yeah, it’s too horrible to imagine.

Wavedong: An Ivy League frat boy who indulges in loutish, drunken behavior towards young women at parties as a form of networking with his buddies in furtherance of a future legal career.

Burnbridge: someone who tends to be their own worst enemy.

Drainswamp, one who drains…

Non-tosspots, verb second:  a pottoss? [3]

armrest, buzzword, carwash, chimneysweep, clambake, cowpoke, cupboard, doorstop, doublespeak, goatherd, ignorefact, knee-jerk (adj), nailset,   newspeak, paperpunch, paperweight, ratrun, ripstop (adj), spokeshave, , watershed, windbreak.   

I note that some of these are O+V=adj ≠ S.

https://wordsmith.org/words/shunpike.html     My daily supply of words, some of which I know, a few of which I adopt. It is the alternative meanings of the words I thought I knew that intrigue, leading one to realise how many words we use largely incorrectly. Of course, in the current climate for received English, in which we adapt the rules to accommodate how the language is used in practice, there is no correction, merely acceptance. if enough people use a word or phrase incorrectly then it becomes the norm and so correct.1    I hate that.


Aptronym [3] a name which seems “aptly suited to its owner,” often in a humorous way.  I repeatedly misread this as aptonym, an alternate form and which spelling I personally prefer. E.g. “Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe, Attorneys at law” [Wiktionary, among others]. See here if feeling persistent.  Also perhaps eunoym, charactonym, ticket name, type name.   The opposite, an antonym, is a caconym, though that is usually restricted to botany / biology For example, the term hypernym is a caconym: it is an incorrectly formed neologism because it is derived from -onym but the  -o has been dropped.[6]


Eventually I found some abstract works which explain how the labelling works, or is supposed to. A breakfast is a meal but that referent of head word is omitted and we simply refer to breakfast, not breakfast meal. We do indeed break the fast that occurs overnight. The label is exocentric because the head word is omitted. One is referred to Bloomfield (1933), but good luck with that. In comparison there are the endocentric compound words, in which the first noun classes the second noun, such as snowstorm and starfish; types of storm or fish. As [8] puts it, The form seems now to be analysed as a third person singular verb – in spite of its lack of an -s marker – plus an object or other noun complement, i.e. ‘one who (V)s (N)s’ or ‘something that (V)s (N)s’, e.g. scarecrow = ‘something that scares crows’. But [8] is not so clear exactly what is defined this way. The more common modern way of combining words like this is to combine noun+verb+er, such as weightlifter, Shoplift is a verb, not a noun, yet fits the first definition of tosspot. We use birdscarer rather than scarebird, flyswatter not swatfly, bullfighter not fightbull, dishwasher not washdish. 

As source [11][ says, and using V=verb, O=object, S=subject,  the exocentric compound noun combines so that V+O=S. He observes the sub-collection above that makes V+all=S. He also points up the conflicts - sawbones has a plural object and scofflaw we have the second-class issues where the noun is not the direct object.  I have a little difficulty with the term ‘head’, as in the head of a construction, by which is meant that word whose specifications are retained in the construction as a whole [11]  so Man in a very old man, Team in football team; generally we use such right-headed compounds in English; from [11], blackbird, overripe, seagreen. A scarecrow is not a crow so it breaks this observed rule; neither element is the head. In a sense, the attempt to force a rule upon English fails, as usual. And, I say that the reason for this is historic development of language; these words are in general old, even archaic, from a time when the tosspot construction was acceptable.

In general, therefore, we have varieties of compound word, where I’ve modified this from source [11], describing the headedness of compound nouns:

A blackbird is a bird but a yellowjacket is an wasp (not a jacket). I don’t know what ‘Possr’ is supposed to represent; possessor? is that not a noun?

So we can subdivide the tosspot or scarecrow nouns as follows, again modified from source [11]:

I have resisted reproducing the third layer of subdivision as a diagram, since I’ve listed the words already. We can separate out the several words starting with stretch and lack, (stretch+O=S, lack+O=S) and we identify many of these and tosspot words in general as criminal (cutthroat, pickpocket, stretchhemp, scofflaw) or stupid (lackbrain, lackall) or critically derogatory (makebate, killjoy). To this we can add the V+all = S subset (catch-all, cure-all lack-all and the many commercially advertised products such as copy-all). The general trouble with attempting a generalisation is that English is so very good at generating a particular exception. [11] is worth reading for more of this analysis.  You may come up against cognitive grammar, an attempt to model language as informed by a current understanding of human cognition; as yet I think this fails more than it succeeds.

DJS 20180924

top pic prunella vulgaris

 To add ℅ AWAD, at some later point: 

ramrod,  Dolittle, pushme-pullyou (pushmipullyu), spitfire (& cacefuego, shitfire) shuteye, clutchfist (the teabag reuser), fusspot, rotgut, sawfly (also spitfire)

A friend, no fan of the current administration and its spineless Republican congress, refers to a certain southern Senator who regularly calls Democrats “shocking” or worse, as Senatrix Clutchpearls.

[1] https://wordsmith.org/words/jerkwater.html

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/10-new-words-for-drunkard/rumpot  all about drunkards.

[3] https://sophia.smith.edu/blog/wordinyourear/2016/02/19/tosspot/

[4] http://csperryess.blogspot.com/2013/11/tosspot-words.html

[5] http://librariansmuse.blogspot.com/2013/11/art-deco-or-deco-is-influential-visual.html

[6] http://www.odlt.org/ballast/caconym.html

[7] https://contrarian.ca/2018/07/10/tosspots-wraprascals-and-tuesdays-word-of-the-day-makebate/

[8] http://homepage.ntu.edu.tw/~karchung/pubs/vncomp_rev.pdf 

[9] https://digitum.um.es/xmlui/bitstream/10201/2009/1/821294.pdf possibly the source for [7]’s good list of words.

[10] https://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/self-heal-herb.html

[11] https://scholars.sil.org/david_h_tuggy/en/publications/scarecrow

 1  Among those that annoy, decimate means to reduce by a tenth not to a tenth. To decimate a population means to lose 10% of it; it does not mean to reduce a population of 100 to only 10. The general and imprecise meaning is that of a drastic reduction in numbers; what annoys me is that halving a population is far more devastating than decimation, yet too many use decimate as the most extreme reduction they can think of, short of extinction terms.

 A prodigal son is not a nice person who is forgiven (each and every time) and not a nice person who luckily gets away with mistakes. A prodigal son is a not very nice person who is forgiven every time. I continue to not see why that is so, mostly because the eventual repentance (which I think of a simply growing up) does not seem to me to be enhanced by the continual forgiveness. There were more effective ways to bring about this change.

 2  A jerkwater town was a stop on a railway line where one literally jerked water. This was then upgraded to the trough idea so the train didn’t have to stop. This then left the jerkwater town with no reason for its existence, so turning into a pejorative term for a pointless habitation, small, remote and insignificant.

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