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, February 12, 2015

Starkers


Starkers

Idioms. You gotta love ‘em. This one has a particularly interesting history.

The word starkers showed up in English in 1923, meaning completely naked. Its roots appear in the term stark naked, which English speakers were using as early as 1520. At this point in the family roots, there’s an unexpected fork.

One would expect stark naked & starkers’ origins to be stark, which came from the Old English word stearc, which meant obstinate, severe, rigid, stiff, stern, strong or violent. By the 1400s, the idiom stark dead came about. Though stark actually referred to the rigidity of a corpse, popular understanding led to the belief that stark was intensifying dead, much like saying truly dead or very dead. It appears this caused the meaning of stark to shift to mean utter, sheer or complete. By the 1640s, that newly established meaning contributed to the Idiom stark raving, possibly translatable today as totally psycho. By the 1830s, stark added a new meaning, bare or barren.

Some other words that were born into Old English of the stiff meaning of stearc include stork, thorn (who would’ve thunk?) & possibly stretch. A century or more later, starch, stereo, & sterile all came from the stiff or rigid meaning of stark.

But wait. What about that previously mentioned “unexpected fork” in the family roots? The two words or terms above that didn’t come from stearc are stark naked & starkers. They came from another Old English word, steort, which is also the root of the name of a bird called a redstart, a colorful critter named for its red derriere. All this because steort meant rear end, rump or buttocks, which leads to the realization that stark naked actually translates to mean butt naked.

Idioms. You gotta love ‘em.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Wordnik, Etymonline, & the OED.

7 comments:

  1. Butt naked=starkers. Any English school kid would agree! That's hilarious!

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  2. Hi Anne - that's what I thought. Thanks for coming by.

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  3. Very entertaining turns and twists here. I've always liked the term "stark raving" not that I have had all much opportunity to use it in my life seeing as most people I know are quite sane. And "starkers" instead of "butt naked" just sounds so terribly British. Very fun!

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  4. Thanks Christine - may you continue to spend your time among the mostly sane!

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  5. These are great fun though I think I'd rather be starkers than butt naked. I'm already stark raving you know what. Hugs and Happy Valentines to you and yours, Charlie, and to all your followers.

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  6. And then there's "buck naked." Always more etymological mysteries.

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