or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, May 16, 2005


I am oddly clumsy. Not so much with my hands or my brain, but with the rest of me: I regularly bang into doorways and trip over things. It's a rare day that I don't have a bruise or two somewhere. Shall we look at some uncoordinated words?

Clumsy itself comes from an obsolete Middle English word meaning "numb with cold".

The delightful lummox is one of those words that just spring up out of nowhere. Ditto for lunk, an abbreviated form of "lunkhead". ("Lummox" may be related to "flummox" somehow: that word also has no known derivation.)

Clod, on examination, resembles "clot", and the two are essentially the same word: a lump of something, extended to humans to mean a big lump of a person.

Oaf is my very favourite of this entire group of words, for two reasons. First, I like the way it feels in the mouth: it has an air of age but not archaism to me. And second, its derivation is charming: it's from an old Norse word, "alfr", meaning "elf". Elf! The path into our current usage seems to be "sprightly" through "silly" into "stupid and therefore clumsy"; I'm amused by the concurrent path from quicksilver tininess to lumbering size.

All these words carry a sense of clumsiness about them, but they also carry a sense of stupidity, which I hope is something people will never accuse me of. Clumsy? Sure. Oafish? I don't think so.


Blogger Tony Pius said...

I've always been fond of "klutz," which was of course wordnapped from Yiddish. It goes back to the German "Klotz," meaning "block of wood." So again with the lumpishness.

Monday, May 16, 2005 3:47:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

Klutz! Good word, that. Yiddish is a good source for vivid words. ("Plotz" is my absolute favourite.) Lots more here .

English is remarkably rich in words for "stupid and clumsy". "Clot", usually in the form "clumsy clot", is a favourite of mine, probably because I remember having read as a child an almost certainly apocryphal anecdote from Reader's Digest. Naturally, I don't have the exact wording, but the gist of it is as follows: During an anatomy lecture, a student, arriving late, made a show of himself by riding his bike into class, parking it along the wall, and taking his seat. The lecturer, after waiting patiently, resumed his lecture by saying, "As we have seen, a clot may be transported in many ways."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 5:39:00 AM  

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