Daily Archives: May 4, 2009


This word was for a long time a word you would see every so often applied to boats or to clouds in the sky, proceeding briskly under wind power. And then the Gulf War happened, with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq firing Scud missiles. And Wolf Blitzer, reporting on the whole mess, took on the nickname the Scud Stud. The best part of two decades has elapsed, but missiles, launchers, and attacks remain by a long chalk the most common collocations (and one might think of scud as the sound of a missile exploding at some distance). References to clouds even outstrip literal nautical references. But if we can lay aside bellicosity for a moment and consider the taste and echoes of this word, we find it brings quite a lot. The vision of motion it brings is surely affected by its similarity to skid; showers and quantities may figure in the background thanks to scad; the overtones are not so positive when they come from scum and scuzzy; and the sedentariness of cud belies (and perhaps undermines?) the briskness of the motion denoted. A sense of skipping may be brough forth more strongly not just by the common [sk] onset but but the skipping of the tongue in the mouth, tip to dorsum to tip, and the sonic similarity to the sound of a skipping stone. Indeed, “skip (a stone)” is a dialectal sense of scud. And the sound of a boat skipping on the waves surely plays into it as well – in fact, it’s possible that it was the onomatopoeic origin of this word, though it’s not certain. But early references are not invariably nautical; there may be more than a mere echo of scoot in this word. Meanwhile, there is another scud, a plug made of straw. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us this word belongs to the verb scud, which means “plug with straw”; it it tells us that that word belongs to the noun scud, which means “straw plug” – somehow they’ve constructed a circularity of etymology that could keep the reader scudding in a tight loop until the hole is plugged.