I was thinking about washing my running clothes, and about how I separate the shirts and the shorts, and then, as one does to pass the time idly, I started reflecting on how shirt and short are only a typo apart – indeed, the distinction between them is between two adjacent letters on the keyboard. And those letters are I and O, which resemble the international symbols for ‘on’ and ‘off’ and, for that matter, the two digits that make everything digital work, including (of course) the computer that I’m writing this on and the one that you’re reading this on and everything between them.
My mind wanders. It’s peripatetic, just like the rest of me. I go running for exercise but also because I like to travel through places. So it’s only natural that, to shorten the time (especially if I’m feeling shirty), I’ll wander from short to shirt to… well, shurt is the next if I shunt to the left. So, obviously, I look it up.
It’s a word. Or it was one, centuries ago, and I’m bringing it back for you today. The Oxford English Dictionary says it means “To amuse oneself, to pass the time.” Its origin is the same as that of short; it seems that the idea was that you are shortening time, i.e., making it drag less.
I’m sure it hurts the word’s chances of surviving and thriving that it now sounds exactly like shirt. But it looks different, and many a pleasant shurting occurs in silence, eyes to the page or screen. Besides, any time you offer me a word I haven’t seen before, I’ll say “Sure thing!” – and if I have to run somewhere to read it, I’ll don my shirt and shorts.