Vocabulary Distraction

I had a rough day yesterday, ending with the scuttling of a project I’ve been pouring hours and hours of my day, night, and weekend time into. Felt a little shell shocked when I first realized we were going to call everything to a halt. This morning was a little better. This afternoon, having to make the announcement to all the partners loomed large and unpleasant over my head, but it was my job to do, and so.

As much as I am a snarky somebody some of the time, I hate being the bearer of bad news. Hate it. Which is silly to say. It’s only the rare person who enjoys bringing other people down.

In the end, the announcing wasn’t a complete misery. I pointed to some of the good things that have come out of this process and to the good-sounding plan we have for moving forward. So, you know, silver linings.

But really why I started writing this is word choice. Every time I talk about the end of this project, I use the word “scuttled.” This isn’t a word I use. I may, in fact, never have said it ever prior to now. Where did it come from to suddenly appear on my tongue? Let’s be clear: I use a lot of words that a lot of other people don’t. I am regularly mocked for this behavior by family, friends, coworkers. But scuttle? No.

And then I wondered if I was even using it correctly. Yes, because even though it seemed correct when it tumbled out of my mouth, the moment I paused over it, all I could think of was a “coal scuttle” (another super-commonly-used term!), and I knew that was wrong.

Happily, my dictionary had more going on than my brain in that moment. I learned that “scuttle” can also mean to scurry, which I’m not sure I care for unless we’re describing the sideways nature of crabs. And then I found my scuttle, which turns out to be an old nautical term for intentionally sinking a ship, meaning to wreck or destroy.

There is some relief in knowing I’ve been using it correctly. There is still, however, the puzzlement over using it at all. When did that word sink into some dark, quiet pocket in the back of my brain? How did it know to rouse itself just now? And what will it do with itself now that it’s here? Is it going to keep turning up in my casual speech? It certainly isn’t a word I’ve felt any need to introduce into wider circulation, so I hope not.

If I’m going to be given the chance to introduce a fallen word back into the day-to-day, I would prefer “swink.” Or, if you prefer, “swinken.” It means to work hard, work to the point of exhaustion. I learned this beauty from Chaucer. I love the sound of it, but I love this next even more:

Swink – third-person singular simple present swinks, present participle swinking, simple past swank or swonk or swinkt or swinked, past participle swunk or swunken or swonken or swinkt or swinked

I’m saying. Go ahead and try it. Say “swunk” a few times and see if it doesn’t make you giggle. That’s handy when you’re working to the point of exhaustion.

Or when your work gets scuttled.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014



23 thoughts on “Vocabulary Distraction

  1. gillis

    Sorry the project is dead, but I do love your use of scuttle. It sounds like a word of dirty disappointment. I’m picturing a low-life, barfly in a soiled trench coat moving quickly out the door before the bartender realizes he’s been stiffed.


  2. you must have heard the word used on the news without consciously noticing it, and it surfaced just when you needed it. I can’t believe all of your recent work got scuttled, that your swinking was for naught. But swink, swank, swunk, and swonken definitely made me giggle.


  3. Your outstanding word choice comes to the rescue with a way to explain disappointing news and then a needed distraction. Searching for just the right words makes writing AND life interesting! Yes? Somehow I just know your grit and resiliency will pull you through this.


    1. Thanks, Kim. I surprised myself by having such fun with that one. I didn’t see the “swink” distraction coming until it was there. Sometimes, I just love my brain!


    1. Hi, Chiara. I’m sure both you and Sonia are correct. How do we learn any of the words we know? We hear them somewhere, we read them. Some stick, some don’t. And some of the sticky ones make it into regular rotation. Others, clearly, lie dormant until they sense their moment has come! 🙂


    1. And thus “swink” returns to common parlance in these United States! It really is such a good word (although the first three times I tried to type that, I typed that it is such a good work)!


  4. So much to love about your analytic look into your vocabulary. I too enjoy the word “swink” and particularly the “simul-swinking” comment. I too echo the sentiments of previous commenters about you having to use the word scuttle at all, but thank you for the lovely slice today!


  5. I think I like the swink, swank, swunk quite a lot, would serve a teacher very well about his or her life, & scuttle is a creepy word to me. I know it most from a spider scene, I believe, in The Hobbit. Sorry your own project was scuttled, feel it probably was sadder because of all the swinking…


    1. Thanks, Linda. And thanks for the Hobbit/Shelob reference! That’s a perfect example of the “scurrying” definition of scuttle! Yes, creepy. I definitely prefer to think of funny, big-eyed sand crabs scuttling across my path as I walk on my favorite beach in Jamaica!

      My hope is that all my crazy swinking will be put to good use in another way!


  6. OMG, or should I say the Irish equivalent MOG (mother of god)– every time I check in to this blog of yours, I am stopped in my tracks –in a good way. In the best way. Sometimes I hardly recognize my old friend, Always I’m glad I don’t. This new person, or this “out” person is so powerful, confrontational, so take-no-prisoners! Love it. Love you.


    1. Thanks, Maureen. I love thinking of myself as take-no-prisoners! I think it’s high time. 🙂 And I love MOG! And I’m glad to see you here … but let’s plan to see each other in person, too. Maybe a glass of wine one night after work (maybe after the sleet storms stop)?


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