What do you call a bad word when it’s not a “bad” bad word? I don’t mean a word that you dislike for aesthetic reasons (e.g., moist, onus); I mean the kind of word that your parents told you not to use, but not a swearword. You know, like poopy-head, or jackanapes, or nitwit: a word intended to mock, scorn, and deride. (And I don’t mean a word that is used that way only sometimes – for instance, while “OK, Boomer” is meant to convey that the addressee is ancient, smug, and irrelevant, members of the Baby Boom generation have happily owned Boomer for decades without any issue except, now, in that one context.)
We could say that these words are insults, and so they are, but insult is a broad term; it can include anything from a wordless gesture or act to an extended peroration. Is there no equivalent to swearword for these?
Of course there is, and you knew there would be as soon as I asked the question, because that’s why we’re here. And you undoubtedly have a good idea of what that word might be: the title of this word tasting – hux-word. Or, I suppose, huxword, though my one source for it (the Oxford English Dictionary) keeps the hyphen in, as it is wont to do.
It seems rather like a hex-word, doesn’t it? Which is not bad: a hex is a curse, and a hex-word is a word uttered in malediction, not unlike a hux-word. But hux comes from Old English, originally husc (those /ks/ and /sk/ sounds tend to swap around from time to time; acs became ask and, in some varieties of English, is now back to ax), and husc came from Old High German hosc, and all of them meant ‘mockery, scorn, derision’.
Meant? Past tense? Well… yeah, hux hasn’t really been in use for, um, several centuries. But what the hex. I mean what the heck. Blow the dust off it. Hux-word and its earlier spellings (e.g., huscword) was in use at the time to mean exactly what you’d think it would mean and exactly what we need it to mean.
And if someone hucks a huxword at you, what do you do? You could say “Aw, shucks.” Or you could just tell them to hux off.