Argot vs ergot

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Argot and ergot are two words that are very close in spelling and are often confused. We will examine the very different definitions of the words argot and ergot, where these two words came from and some examples of their usage in sentences.

Argot is a type of informal language that is jargon used by a certain social group of people. In its strictest sense, an argot is a secret language that is practiced by a group of people in order to communicate ideas to each other without allowing outsiders to understand what is being said. Various words and phrases may be used as specialized terminology. New words may be used as argot lingo, or old expressions may be used in a new way. An argot may invent a new idiom, abbreviation, grammar, vocabulary or slang and may at times seem almost like a foreign language. Colloquial speech may be considered an argot. One well-known argot that differs from standard English is Cockney rhyming slang, with slang terms such as egg yolk to mean joke, and apples and pears to mean stairs. Another more recent argot is internet slang. Some internet slang terms that may be considered part of an argot are BTW which means by the way, and l8r, which means good-bye, I will talk to you later. The word argot has an interesting etymology. Its origin is a French word, argot, which means the language of thieves.

Ergot, or claviceps purpurea, is a fungus that grows on grass and cereal crops such as barley, rye, wheat and millet. Ergot is toxic and should not be consumed. If ingested, this potent substance will cause ergotism, a serious medical condition. This potent fungi produces alkaloid substances that upon ingestion may cause vasoconstriction and gangrene, muscle spasms, convulsions, hallucinations and a terrible burning. Consuming grasses or cereals contaminated with ergot may result in death. The Brothers of St. Anthony established a hospital to treat those suffering from ergot poisoning in 1095. It is thought that many witch trials in the Middle Ages were a result of women and men who were afflicted with ergot poisoning. Ergot is related to lysergic acid. The word ergot is derived from the French word ergot, which means a spur on a branch or a cock’s spur.


Mr. Trump is comfortable with the wiseguys-argot of that time and place, and he defaults to it whether he is describing his faithless lawyer or his fruitless efforts to discourage the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, from investigating one of his senior advisers, Michael T. Flynn, over his connections to Russia. (The New York Times)

I quickly learned that their phrases are as obscure in their true meaning as Cockney rhyming slang or convict argot, where the objective is to hide rather than illuminate intent. (Washington Monthly)

Elevated levels of the grain fungus ergot are showing up in spring wheat being harvested in south-central North Dakota, prompting grain elevators to impose discounts and even turn some truckloads away, grain merchants said on Tuesday. (Reuters)

Olson isn’t alone in dealing with disease. Wheat farmers in parts of the Upper Midwest, especially south-central North Dakota, are reporting above-average incidence of ergot this harvest. (AG Week)