Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Nov 13, 2015 5:21 am

This is probably not news to folks on the right [[not necessarily correct]] side of the ditch, but it is news to me.
<2015 “Whether because of the resemblance to Mathew, or because he had taken Strike’s chair, or because Strike genuinely senses a tosser when he saw one, Strike found the youth obscurely objectionable.”—Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling), page 58>

TOSSER noun (British, slang) A stupid or despicable person.
Word Origin: C20: probably from toss off (to masturbate)


1) (Britain, slang) A male who masturbates [[excessively?]].
2 (Britain, slang) An objectionable male, often somewhat obnoxious in demeanor.
<That bloke who ripped me off was a right tosser.>


TOSSER noun: British vulgar slang A person who masturbates (used as a general term of abuse).


TOSSER noun: A term of contempt or abuse for a person; a ‘jerk’. [probably from the senses to masturbate]


I rarely refer to the Urban Dictionary with its heavy weight of unreviewed dross, but I think they offer a good feel for this one, which has proved hard (at least for me) to put my finger on with its multitude of interpretations:


TOSSER: Literally, one who masturbates [[Seems to me that masturbation has got a bum rap, but I guess it ain,t what it used to be with the threat of blindness, pimples, mental illness, . . .]] Common usage typically refers to anyone of whom you have a low opinion.

Some Words and Descriptions Related to Tosser: wanker, idiot, twat, cunt, loser, dickhead, prick, asshole, jerk, fool, moron, dick, bastard, bullshitter; the word tosser describes a person with a tendency to show off or brag in an excessive and embarrassing way; someone who is loud and rude.

<Well at first I thought this guy delivers, but in the end he was just another tosser.>

The first quote is from the Oxford English Dictionary with the rest being from newspaper archives:
<1977 “She came on in a big mac and flashed her legs like an old tosser before throwing it off.”—Zigzag, April, page 43>

<1997 “Trustees who hand out lottery cash were yesterday branded middle- class tossers by a Labour MP."—Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland). 26 February>

<2003 “‘We have done nothing wrong and have nothing to fear.' He admitted that he had referred to members of the council as 'tossers', adding: ‘But that slipped out.’”—Daily Mail, 18 January>

<2008 “Killer Brian "Tosser" Meehan is suspected of being behind a massive arms and drugs haul seized by cops yesterday.”—Mirror (London), 3 September>

<2015 “Been at Alton Towers two mins and some tosser already ran my foot over with a pushchair.”—Birmingham Mail (England), 4 June>

Ken G – November 12, 2015

PS: Since I have no good native feel for the proper use of the word, additions, corrections, and clarifications are welcome.
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Re: tosser

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Nov 13, 2015 10:31 am

The Danish noun 'tosse' means 'crazy person', 'someone who isn't in his right mind'. I surmise, evidencelessly, that this term may have entered English via the speech of Danish seafarers and then been transmogrified into the term that Brits all know and love today.

There is another slang term in British English which to me has the feel of being fairly close to 'tosser' (in the sense of 'idiot') in both form and meaning, namely 'tosspot'.

However, Michael Quinion offers a rather different take on that word, which he says meant "a habitual drinker, one who tossed back the contents of his pot to make ready for the next". But regarding 'tosser', Quinion is mute.
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Re: tosser

Post by Phil White » Fri Nov 13, 2015 4:17 pm

Yep, my mother always said I would go blind, and look at me now...

Okay, seriously, Ken. "Tosser" pretty well covers the same ground as "wanker" and can essentially be used for anyone whom you dismiss as obnoxious, or useless. If anything, I have the sense that it is even more aggressive and dismissive than "wanker". Among good friends, you could probably get away with "you daft wanker" as an affectionate aside. It would be harder to do that with "you daft tosseer".

Be that as it may, it is more than anything dismissive in tone. Not so much a numbskull or an idiot, but someone who makes my life harder or unpleasant.

As far as the etymology is concerned, I have no idea what "came" first, "tosser" or "toss off", but they are derivationally related.

Quinion is right with "toss-pot", which, as far as I remember, crops up as early as the 16th century. It is possible that "tosser" originally derived from this and subsequently picked up its additional sexual meanings.

Ed: Yes, I was right about "toss-pot":
But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Last edited by Phil White on Fri Nov 13, 2015 4:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Added citation
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: tosser

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Nov 13, 2015 9:02 pm

Phil and Erik,

Thanks for the info.

Ken - November 13, 2015 (pimple-free)
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Re: tosser

Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed Nov 18, 2015 3:28 am

An interesting advertising campaign was run here by the Environmental Protection Authority. It played on the slang meaning and the regular meaning of the word tosser. The campaign centred around the phrase Don't be a tosser! and referred to people tossing rubbish out of their car, tossing rubbish in the streets or simply leaving rubbish behind when they left an area. The idea was simply that if you tossed rubbish anywhere but in the bin you were a tosser.

WoZ using the bin
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

End of topic.
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