Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Funky, cool & groovy


Funky, cool & groovy
So when did things get funky, cool & groovy?

Cool entered English as col, some time before 1100, referring to temperatures that were neither cold nor warm as well as people who were unperturbed or undemonstrative. By 1728 English speakers began to apply cool to large sums of money, & by 1825 cool also meant calmly audacious. That meaning took another century to ooze into meaning fashionable. By the 1940s, jazz musicians got hold of cool. After a bit of time referring to a particular sort of jazz, cool simply became a general term of approval.

Similarly, groovy started out with a literal meaning. It was used in the mid-1800s to mean pertaining to a groove. Like cool, groovy got into the hands of those 1930s jazz musicians, morphing from in the groove, which referred to a musician playing expertly without grandstanding, to groovy. By the 1940s it began to mean wonderful. Our friends at the OED tell us that some time during the 1980s the word groovy went “out of currency.”

Funky has a more complicated history than either cool or groovy. It may have started in several different manners. Evidence suggests that one usage stems from the French word for smoke, funkiere, which may have entered English as early as the 1620s. It also seems funky may have originated at Oxford University in the 1600s, meaning agitation, perturbation or distress, from the Flemish word fonck. Another possible origin is the Old French word funicle, meaning wild or mad. Whether all three strands somehow braided themselves together, or whether only one is the true origin, funky gained general use in English during the 1700s, meaning depressed. This meaning still exists in the phrase he’s in a funk. And, just to confuse things, more etymological evidence shows a fourth strand of funky showing up in 1784 in reference to stinky cheese, & a fifth strand from Kikongo, a language of Zaire & its environs. This word, lu-fuki referred to bad body odor. By the early 1900s, all this funkiness managed to get itself a more positive flavor, thanks to – you guessed it – jazz musicians, who applied it to music that seemed earthy, strong & deeply felt.

Think of all we owe to jazz musicians.

Has groovy truly died & gone to word heaven, or is it still alive? Which of those two possibilities would be best for the world? Will cool & funky live long lives, or are they soon to go “out of currency”?


My thanks go out to this week’s sources The OED, English Language & Usage, & Etymonline.

7 comments:

  1. Cool still lives on, and I think it has the best future. I rarely hear funky, except in a sort of ironic way. Interesting stuff on the history of the words.

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  2. If "funky" could refer to stinky cheese in 1784, I think it might just last--at least for that meaning. I think that's the way I've heard it used in recent years. That thing in the fridge nobody owns up to that starts to smell "funky."

    A fab, cool and groovy post :-)

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  3. Hi Mother Reader & Anne,
    Thanks for coming by. I agree that "cool" is the most likely survivor of the three, & Anne, I'm sorry to hear about that 1784 vintage cheese in your fridge!

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  4. My four year old grandson uses "cool". I love it when he does and hope he doesn't do it just around me because I use it so often. I still hear "groovy" occasionally from folks in their 20's. Have you ever read Malcolm X? Wonderful, historic book and packed full of authentic early jazz and cool language.

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  5. Wouldn't we all like to be thought of as calmly audacious? Or even audaciously calm. Funky will never go out of style because that funkadelically audacious jazz will never die.

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  6. I love word origins and I thank you for adding to my knowledge. I was aware that Funk had many different connotations, but not of the history.

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  7. Hi Christine, Steve & Pen & Ink, Thanks so much for coming by.

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