I recently ran across an excellent old insult, the word courtnoll: “A contemptuous or familiar name for a courtier” (OED). We don’t have much occasion to insult courtiers these days, but courtnoll is based on noll “The top or crown of the head; the head itself. In later use freq. with the epithet drunken.” A sample of citations with the freq. epithet:
1577 W. HARRISON Descr. Eng. II. vi. I. 161 He carrieth off a drie dronken noll to bed with him.
1600 P. HOLLAND tr. Livy Rom. Hist. XXXIII. xlviii. 851 When.. they awoke and roused themselues, with their drunken and drousie nols.
1626 N. BRETON Fantasticks in Wks. II. 14/2 The nappy Ale makes many a drunken Noll.
And a fine one without it:
1825 Blackwood’s Mag. Jan. 113 I’ll split thy pruriginious nowl.
I’ll leave the construction of suitable imprecations to the inventive reader.


  1. I wonder how it became a surname, then.

  2. I can’t find any reference to a surname Courtnoll, but there are plenty of surnames derived from derisive nicknames (Ballard originally meant ‘baldy’ and Glavin was ‘glutton,’ for example). The Middle Ages saw such delightful surnames as Piggesflesh, Pourfishe, Catsnose, and Cocksbrain, but these have for some reason fallen by the wayside.

  3. Old Noll was the nickname the Cavaiers had for Oliver Cromwell. I assume it is derived from “noll”= “head”, but can’t find any true derivation.

  4. No, Noll was just a nickname for Oliver parallel to Ned for Edward.

  5. Cryptic Ned says

    So the word “noll” means the same as the word “poll”?

  6. Huh. I guess it does.

  7. Shelton’s (contemporary) translation of Cervantes renders palaciega with it once.

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