Oh, but my swink was actually not yet swunk!

Of course there is more to last week’s vocabulary story. Even as I was trying to figure out how “scuttle” suddenly found itself tripping off my tongue, there was a little something else poking at the side of my brain: scuttlebutt.

Here is what both Wikipedia and my dictionary have to say:

Scuttlebutt in slang usage meaning rumor or gossip, deriving from the nautical term for the cask used to serve water (or, later, a water fountain).

The term corresponds to the colloquial concept of a water cooler in an office setting, which at times becomes the focus of congregation and casual discussion. Water for immediate consumption on a sailing ship was conventionally stored in a “scuttled butt,” a butt (cask) which had been scuttled by making a hole in it so the water could be withdrawn. Since sailors exchanged gossip when they gathered at the scuttlebutt for a drink of water, scuttlebutt became Navy slang for gossip or rumours.

How does this one little word that should really never have been a word in the first place take up so much space? And how did sailors get famous for cussing when they were running around saying words like scuttlebutt? Language is so wacky.

Navy slang, people. A scuttled butt. You can’t make this stuff up.


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

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6 thoughts on “Oh, but my swink was actually not yet swunk!

    1. I’m still so amused by the origin of this word. Maybe this is why there’s a prevailing (nonsensical) belief that men don’t gossip. They pass around scuttlebutt instead! 🙂

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  1. i love your commentary on words. Did I ever tell you about the book “One Word: Contemporary Writers on the Words They Love or Loathe,” published by Sarabande Books? Here’s the last sentence from the PW review: “These marvelous little pieces of writing highlight not so much the words themselves as what words do, how they exist as themselves but also as the carriers of meanings, which shift and branch into many paths real and metaphoric, juicy with sound.” There’s one essay on the word “fork” and its many meanings, and someone made a video based on it.

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