akimbo

Sounds like a word from, I dunno, Japanese, or an African language, or the corners of Rudyard Kipling’s mind, dunnit? Or a nickname for your friend Kim. But you probably know this word well enough. Come, now: what word comes before it? Demonstrate arms akimbo. Are your elbows crooked like the kick of a k, knuckles (m) resting on your hips (b)? Doesn’t your arm make a keen bow that way? No, keen bow is not where this word comes from, though the bow part might be related. Truth is, the trail on this one fades off in the fog of time. In 1400 we had it as in kenebowe; in 1611, it was written down a kenbow; 1629, on kenbow; and so on. The [n] assimilated to the [b] – it kept the nasal manner but moved the place to the lips – and the preposition, whatever it was, reduced and attached to the front. Now we have a nice, angular-sounding word, bouncing from the back of the mouth to the front, with possible echoes of Akela – what Cub Scouts call their leader, who we may feel sure sometimes stands with arms akimbo – and a bimbo, who may not have arms akimbo but your wife sure will if she sees you with one.

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