The Toad's Words

Excursus #15

Based on the amount of mail I received from the last two Toads, I believe The Toad's Words is starting to catch on. Interestingly, so are the nicknames. I have now been referred to as Toad Man, the Toad Meister, and Toad Breath (I think it was meant as a compliment). The words have also been referred to as Toadies (I kind of like that). Fortunately, no one has called me a toady yet, which brings us to our first word.

Toady, noun

Toady usually refers to someone who tries to gain favor from superiors by ingratiating actions. A sycophant. A flatterer who fawns.

This word has an origin that relates to 'quack.' 'Toady' originated from the word 'toadeater', which is synonymous with 'toady.' A 'toadeater' was a quack's or mountebank's assistant who would eat, or pretend to eat, a toad so he could be cured by the medicine man. In those days, toads were considered to be poisonous. Actually, a toad's parotoid glands and warts do secrete a poison that tastes bad and in some species will kill small predators.

By the way, toadstools, the poisonous mushrooms, gained their name because of their association with the supposedly poisonous toads. To this day, people believe that if a toad pees on you, you will get warts. Clearly, toads are a much maligned animal. Having caught and played with a large number of toads in my day (every one of them peed on me), I can honestly say that I never got a single wart. Well, I got a few warts but those came from cooties. I can also honestly say I never ate a toad.

The word 'toad' itself comes from the Anglo Saxon tadige but it has no other known origins or cognates. Hence, it may be one of our few, pure Anglo Saxon words. So let us give it more respect!

Jimmy Bob discovered that being Professor Hangum's toady didn't help his final grade.

Grouse, verb

To complain, to grumble.

'Grouse' is sort of like 'gripe' but usually implies more animosity or hatred. In the noun form it is a complaint or a plump, reddish-brown game bird. It is not clear where the verb form of this word comes from. Several sources claim that Rudyard Kipling was the first to use it in print. It is also said that the Old French groucier has the same meaning and is still used in Norman dialect.

The movie star incessantly groused to the director unless she was allowed to be surrounded by her lackeys and her toadies.

Quail, verb

To cower or shrink back in fear. To be afraid.

This form of 'quail' originally meant to curdle or coagulate. The Italian word cagliare has the same double meaning. Why this relationship and any possible connection is not clear. In the noun form, a 'quail' is one of various plump game birds.

Jimmy Bob was not hired to work as the quack's assistant because he quailed at the prospect of eating a hoppy toad.

Ferret, verb

To hunt by using a ferret to drive out the prey from its hiding place. To search intensely. To search out or discover.

Quite often it is used as 'ferret out' but can also be used as 'to ferret for the facts.'


Something that is designed to search with antennas and other electronic surveillance equipment.

For example, "The Russians had a ferret ship sitting off the coast of San Diego to listen into the fleet communications."


These last two forms clearly come from the noun form of 'ferret' meaning the animal that is related to the weasel which, when domesticated, is used to drive rabbits from their holes.

There is another noun form of 'ferret' meaning a strong narrow tape used in bindings, shoe laces, and to edge fabric. This form of the word probably comes from the obsolete Italian word fioretto meaning floss silk.

The more common form of 'ferret' comes from the Middle French furet, which is derived from the Latin fur meaning thief.

The quack did hire Jimmy Bob to help him ferret out a toady that would not quail at eating a live toad.

Dogged, adjective

Pronounced (dog id) with the accent on the dog.

Tenacious, persistent, stubborn, not willing to give up.

This clearly comes from the verbal form of 'dog', which means to follow or hunt like a dog. The origin of 'dog' is one that seems to mystify even the most dogged of etymologists. Dog seems to be another one of our pure Anglo Saxon words - docga. 'Canine' and 'hound' can be traced but 'dog' just appeared. It is also interesting that cognates of 'dog' appear later in French, dogue, and German, dogge, for certain types of dogs such as the mastiff. However, these words come from the English 'dog.'

Despite his dogged determination and his quality of not quailing while trying to ferret out the most difficult of solutions, the toady still was not selected because of his constant grousing.

Disclaimer: The author, his peers, friends, and colleagues in no way take responsibility for crossed-eyed glances, slapped faces, rejected offers, or any draconian consequences as a result of using The Toad's Words.

Revised: August 27, 2000

Copyright by Michael L. VanBlaricum, 04 September 2000.

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