In the first installment of her new series, Susie Dent takes us through her favourite ten words to describe office co-workers.
There are many upsides to returning to the office. Enhanced creativity; no pets or children under the desk; no hoovering, and definitely less toast. As Zoom meetings recede so the need to be ‘nod-crafty’ – a 16th-century term for nodding with an air of great wisdom when you actually tuned out a while ago – goes with them. And, of course, we get to mix with our colleagues again in the flesh. For most of us this is a joyful thing, at least for the first 24 hours.
Time will have erased the memory of the noisy eater or chair-swiveller, the one who unfailingly uses up the milk, or who presents any group idea as their own. At some point, however, the small irritations will come creeping back, and you will need a label or two with which to articulate them. So in the spirit of collaboration I offer my top ten words for office types, in the hope they might never come in useful.
- catchfart: someone who is forever sucking up to the boss. The original catchfarts , in the 17th century, were servants who closely followed their master or mistress and therefore went with the political wind.
- mumpsimus: one who insists that they are right, despite clear evidence that they’re wrong. Mumpsimuses (or mumpsimi, if you prefer) originated in the 16th century and a much-told story of a poorly literate Catholic priest, who consistently tripped up while reciting the post-communion prayer. Instead of Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine (“What we have received in the mouth, Lord”), the priest mangled sumpsimus to mumpsimus. Despite being corrected on more than one occasion, the priest insisted he would not change his old mumpsimus for anyone’s new sumpsimus.
- microlipet: the colleague who never fails to get worked up over utterly trivial things.
- twattler: a chatterbox or babbler, who always has to know what’s going on so they can pass it on to the next person.
- gigglemug: a cheery face, applicable to anyone who goes around perpetually grinning and thus ruins your day.
- rudesby: a rudesby, on the other hand, thanks to Shakespeare, is one who is consistently ill-mannered and badly behaved.
- struthious: an adjective meaning ostrich-like, ‘struthious’ suits the individual who greets every crisis with ‘Problem? What problem?’.
- clumperton: a 16th-century term for a clown or a clodhopper. The clumperton is the office joker who is entirely insensitive to the fact that no one is laughing.
- ultracrepidarian: one who loves to hold forth on subjects they know absolutely nothing about. This word’s backstory takes us to ancient Greece and the painter Apelles, who overheard a cobbler declare that not only was the sandal wrong in one of his paintings, but the leg too. Apelles told the man that he was not equipped to judge ultra crepidam ‘beyond the shoe’.
- smellfungus: a hypercritical individual who finds fault in absolutely everything and everyone. Not to be confused with the smellfeast, the colleague who always turns up when you open your lunchbox.
- Let’s not forget the colleague who always gets to a group task just as it’s finished. This is the ‘cunctator’. Just be careful how you say it.
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