These Wacky Words Originated In The USA

The US may have won independence from Britain, but the English can gloat that Americans still speak a language named after them.

American English, however, has spawned more than a few amazing words all its own. Some Americanisms are probably familiar to you, such as guy, takeout, or the phrase heads up, but others will sound as foreign to you as they sound to Brits today. So you might say this list is something of a lollapalooza that’ll surprise and amuse you. Read on!


If you’re a little puzzled by that last slide, you’ll be interested to know that lollapalooza (“an extraordinary thing, person, or event”) is a fun American formation dating to the early 1900s (and name of a rock music festival starting in the 1990s). Its spelling has varied over time, so you might encounter lallapaloosa or lallapalootza in older written works, too.

Our next term has a history as unusual as it is tragic.


Sockdolager, meaning a “decisive blow or remark,” is a 19th-century American original. The origin of these silly-sounding words are sometimes just that—silliness.

However, it’s claimed (though etymologists aren’t exactly signing off on this theory) that the word combines sock (“to strike or hit”) with doxology, “a hymn or phrase praising God.” There’s supposed to be something especially decisive about that, we guess.

A form of the word sockdolager in the play Our American Cousin may have been one of the last words Lincoln heard right before he was assassinated in 1865.


Catawampus, meaning “askew, diagonal,” originates in the 1830–40s with an original sense of “fiercely, utterly.” It’s thought to be an American colloquialism influenced by the cater- in cater-cornered (for many of us, kitty-corner) and wampish, Scottish for “flopping about.”

The next term may be the funniest sounding word in all of English …


Hornswoggle means “to swindle, cheat, or hoax.” It would be a deception for us to say we know the exact origin of hornswoggle, but its first recorded appearance so far was in the US around 1829. The word is probably a fanciful, humorous formation meant to sound smart … but is really just nonsense.

Now, is foofaraw an actual word, or are you being hornswoggled? Find out by clicking next.

And speaking of words that sound strange, take a look at these obscure singular nouns.


A foofaraw is either “a great fuss about something insignificant” or “an excessive amount of decoration.” The term is found in the American West in the mid-1800s—and it has an actual origin.

Etymologists believe the word is based on the French fanfaron, “boastful,” and Spanish fanfarrón, “vain, arrogant.” The Romance language words are apparently meant to sound “showy,” like a fanfare.

Are you ready for us to top the goofiness of foofaraw?


One of the most commonly used words on this list, discombobulate, meaning “to confuse, frustrate,” sounds like something from a cartoon. It was first recorded as discomboberate in the early 1800s, apparently in humorous imitation of hifalutin-sounding Latin words. We can also see the influence of words like discomfit or discompose in it, which words have similar senses.

Our final term is how you might describe someone who makes you feel discombobulated.


OK, OK, American English can’t claim all the wacky words. Which bumps us into bumptious, found in British English writing in the early 1800s and apparently modeled after fractious using the word bump. The word means “offensively self-assertive”— and we hope it is the sockdolager that discombobulates you to the point of feeling catawampus.

These lollapaloozas of American English (and yes, British English) speak for themselves in so many ways. They mean how they sound. So, if you feel hornswoggled by any foofaraw, you just may want to … absquatulate.

Now that you’ve had a taste of the wacky, how about diving into some of the oldest words of all in English!

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