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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Deadbeats and Windbags

A real "bigwig"


The two words in the title describe different kinds of people. Do you have funny words in your language to describe people?


Here are ten strange names for different kinds of people.

a. bigwig: Also called a "big shot," this is a V.I.P., or Very Important Person. European kings and nobles used to wear wigs. These were expensive to purchase and maintain. And of course, the bigger the wig, the more expensive it was. So a "bigwig" today is a rich, powerful person.

b. cheapskate: This is a person who is stingy. The "cheap" part is obvious, but no one is quite sure where the "skate" comes from.

c. deadbeat: Someone who avoids paying debts. The origin is uncertain: "dead" may mean "absolutely," as in "dead certain." And "beat" was used in the mid-19th century to describe one who didn't pay his bills, but no one seems to know why.

d. fall guy: This is usually a scapegoat, one who takes the blame for the actions of others. To "take the fall" for someone means to take some punishment in their place.

e. goof-off: A person who is lazy or doesn't do his job; without, it's a phrasal verb. To "goof off" means to fool around, especially when you're supposed to be doing something.

f. hired gun: An expert, especially one from outside, who is brought in to solve a problem. Originally applied to a mercenary or assassin, who was hired to literally shoot someone, the meaning is now metaphorical.

g. loose cannon: A person who speaks or behaves carelessly, creating risk. Battleships had cannons mounted on the deck. If one became loose, it could be tossed around during a storm, causing a lot of damage.

h. sellout: One who compromises his own beliefs to gain money or other forms of success. It can also be a verb: "He sold out."

i. tenderfoot: A rookie, a beginner. When a new cowboy bought his first boots, his feet got sore; later, his feet would toughen up, but until then he was a "tenderfoot."

j. windbag: A person who talks a lot and says nothing.


1. We couldn't find the problem in our books, until we brought in a __________ from an accounting firm.
2. I always have to work overtime because my teammate is such a __________.
3. We can't trust "Crazy Bill" to handle the negotiations; he's too much of a __________.
4. Our sales meetings are long and useless, because the manager is such a __________.
5. The staff has to have lunch tomorrow with the __________ from the head office.
6. The artist became a __________, giving up his own style to please the market."
7. The bill collector spent many hours trying to catch one __________.
8. Buy her a big engagement ring; don't be such a __________."
9. Don't blame me for your mistake; I'm not going to be the fall guy.
10. That new salesman's a __________, so he might make costly mistakes.


1. How would you translate these words into your language? Do they sound funny when you do?
2. Why do you think people made up such funny names for these kinds of people?
3. What other English words can you think of that are similar to these?


1 f; 2 e; 3 g; 4 j; 5 a; 6 h; 7 c; 8 b; 9 d; 10 i

This lesson is ©2012 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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