Cavort: to prance; to frisk; to caper about
Since the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) is not sure where the word “cavort” comes from, it throws up its mighty dictionary hands and declares that the etymology is uncertain.
Other sources are not so sure of that uncertainty. The Slang Dictionary suggests that it comes from cavolta, Lingua Franca for “prancing on horseback.” (If your poem about John Travolta has been languishing in a drawer somewhere for lack of a proper rhyme, let it languish no more. According to me, cavolta rhymes perfectly with Travolta, who is best known for prancing on dance floors.)
Other than its rhyming potential, why should we give any credence to the suggestion by The Slang Dictionary? Aren’t slang words, words without a high school education? And does this have anything to do with rabbits?
Those are all good questions. Let’s start with the first. The original publication of The Slang Dictionary appeared in 1891 and was aptly named Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present: A Dictionary, Historical and Comparative, of the Heterodox Speech of all Classes of Society for More than Three Hundred Years. With Synonyms in English, French, German, Italian, etc. Any book with a title like that deserves our trust, so I’m happy to give it all of my credence, if necessary. (Seven volumes were published, and Volume II is free to read at Google Play. You can learn what “can’t see a hole in a ladder”1 and “to have no milk in the cocoa-nut”2 mean.) Its entry for “cavort” also offers other proposed etymologies, including curvet, French for a certain style of horse leaping, and the Spanish word cavar, which refers to the pawing of a horse. The OED reluctantly admits that “cavort” could be a corruption of curvet, but stresses that John Russell Bartlett, an American, said it, and you know how the Americans are and what they’ve done to the King’s English. Then, the OED curtly dismisses the idea that “cavort” is related to the Spanish by saying it “has nothing to recommend it. So there.” Those last two words aren’t really in the entry, but they are implied.
The second question about slang is complicated and deserves more discussion. For now, let’s just say that I think of slang as street poetry. The best and brightest slang words end up making an honest living in the mouths of most Americans, and many go on to make it big, appearing in poems, novels, and the mouths of politicians, educators, and commentators.
The answer to that last question is so important and of such a personal nature that it deserves quotes. “Yes, this has everything to do with rabbits.” And let me say thank you for asking, because I could have spent the entire day talking about words, when all I really wanted to do today was post a video of some of my yard bunnies cavorting outside my window.
You’ll have to wait a few seconds for the high jumps. Enjoy.
2to be insane
(Note to reader: Any connection to any definitions on this blog to anyone who writes on this blog is tenuous, possibly serendipitous, and highly irregular.)