More on language (hmm … I feel like William Safire)

When I told Mopsy I was going to put up my anti-nouns-as-verbs post, she called me on my use of ‘bead’ as a verb. And, although I thought I was ok on that score, I wasn’t sure, so I looked it up and, sure enough, ‘bead’ has been used as a verb since 1577! Definitely not something I created.

That got me thinking about other words that have found their way onto my commonly-used list. I went first to ‘snarky’ — perhaps because that’s what the ‘scrapbooking’ post was? Yeah, maybe. I don’t know when I started using it, how I first heard it, when I decided I knew what it meant. I knew I hadn’t created it, but it seemed pretty current, pretty new on the coining continuum.

Ha. Shows how much I know. It comes from ‘snark,’ logically enough and has been in play since 1906. Nineteen-oh-six! I wish there was some way to chart it’s use because surely it fell out of favor somewhere along the way and has only come back into fashion recently.

How did it come back? Who saw it read it, remembered it and pulled it back from the ‘archaic’ list and into the spotlight of quotidian parlance? (Yeah, you know I did that on purpose.) The discovery of snarky’s long history gives me hope. For language in general, sure but for one word in particular.

‘Swink’ is an excellent, perfect little word, one I’ve loved for a long time. No, you’re not crazy. No one uses this word anymore. Not even me. I learned it from Chaucer. As sweet as it sounds, swink’s meanings are far from sweet. As a noun it means ‘drudgery,’ and as a verb it means to ‘toil or slave.’

I have been trying to reintroduce ‘swink’ into conversational English for years now with no success. At least not yet. Snarky and bead have awakened my optimism. I’m handing off my pretty little swink to you … casually insert it into a comment here or there, see who picks it up, how far it goes.


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