My family are such nerds.  Case in point: my little sister (who is twelve) got a point off her math homework recently.  She used the word “widdershins” instead of “counter-clockwise” because “widdershins” is clearly an awesome word, and her math teacher assumed she made it up and docked her a point.  Every member of my family, including the dog, knew perfectly well what “widdershins” means and thinks this is hilarious.

(Approached on the subject, said math teacher is still puzzled why anyone would want to use archaic Scottish terminology, but will give her the point back after confirming that it is in fact a real word.)

Widdershins probably comes from German, meaning roughly “against sense” – it was considered unlucky to walk in a counter-clockwise circle, because the sun went clockwise.  Fair enough.  The opposite path was called “sunwise” for obvious reasons.  Widdershins and sunwise were used by the Lowland Scots; in the Highlands they used the Gaelic “tuathal” and “deiseil” and as I have no idea how those are pronounced I don’t intend to try using them any time soon.

But widdershins is a lovely word and doesn’t deserve obsolescence.  (Dictionary.com claims that “obsolescence” is itself obsolete and “obsoleteness” is the correct term.  A pox on them.)  Admittedly referring to the clock is probably easier for most people to remember, but “widdershins” is a great deal of fun to say and far more interesting.

What obsolete terms would you bring back, if you could?

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