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 spit, spurt, 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 u 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.