Spring is here, and everything is spurking up.

Does spurk seem like a word I just invented? It… sort of is, but it’s not. I wondered if it existed, so I looked, and it does. It has been in English for more than three centuries, though no one seems to use it these days.

And what would you suppose it means?

Linguists learn that the association between form and sense is (with specific exceptions) arbitrary. To some extent this is true, but no one has told most people, who regularly guess the meanings of words on the basis of what they sound (or look) like they should mean, which is generally based on other words or parts of other words.

And this word is made of bits that call such things forth! The sp– onset might make you think of eruption, such as spitspurt, and sprout, or other fluid things such as spill and spread; there are also other motions such as spank. There are quite a few other messy and distributive sp– words too. The following narrows it, and the rk pulls it even closer in: lurk, jerk, work, murk

If you want to know what a word sounds like it should mean to an adolescent boy (or someone who thinks like one), go to Urban Dictionary. There you will see several definitions of spurk, every one made up on the spot by someone who decided it should be a word and should mean that: “speaking to ones self while lurking” (a clear blending); “To spurt in a sudden, rapid stream from an opening previously clogged up or not working” (very sound-symbolic); a couple of others not worth looking at. But none of those is the established sense you’ll find in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The definition in the OED, however, makes perfect sense when you hear it. Actually, it’s two senses, clearly related: “To shoot or spring up. Also of persons: To brighten or cheer up.”

See? Like spurt and perk.

The OED does not confidently state that (or any other sound-association or sound-symbolic source) as the etymology, because a confident etymology requires a clear trail of citations. I likewise cannot say with certainty that spurk arose because of sound symbolism or resemblance to other words. However, were I writing the OED’s etymology, to what it has – “Of obscure origin” – I would sorely want to add “but come on.”

This word spurks me up, and so I am spruiking it. I hope you will enjoy it and join in its use.

3 responses to “spurk

  1. I love to study words & languages all my life

  2. Censorship is not ok 👌 My freedom of speech is the reason I love words.

  3. The name of the goddess Artemis seems to be made up of bits and pieces of the words that represent her attributes.

    Artemis = ancient Greek goddess, identified by the Romans with Diana,
    characterized as a virgin huntress associated with the moon, forests and childbirth.

    The word “rhythm” is probably connected with the goddess Artemis.
    Rhythm < Latin rhythmus R and D > T)
    resh-oh-dalet-feh rodaf = hunter (D > T)
    taf-alef-oh-mem ta@omim = twins
    taf-oh-mem tom = perfect innocence, virgin
    taf-mem-oo-saf tamoos = unblemished condition (Talmudic)
    taf-mem-oo-saf-heh t’moosah = animal on the point of death (Talmudic)

    I thought this was rather remarkable until I discovered that Artemis has a Semitic origin.
    What is rhythm / Artem[is] pronounced backwards? Symmetry / meter
    Symmetry / meter < Gk mיtron = measure = the rhythmic element in music .
    Compare Diana with dance = to move rhythmically, usually to the accompaniment of music.

    I am not claiming that this is a universal or primary characteristic of word-formation. just that it does seem to have some validity in some cultures at some period of time.

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