Cavort

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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.

 

 

1highly intoxicated

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.)

Thanks, nodgecomb

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That great Word Census, known as the OED, keeps records on the words populating the minds and mouths of English speakers. Some words, like “double,” have been around since 1290 doing twice the work of most verbs. Others die young.  For instance, “nodgecomb,” called both a simpleton and a fool, grew up in England in the 1500s and then suddenly died. We have no record of why he died, so there’s no way to dispute my claim that he was killed when he was caught poaching. At that time, most of the forests in England belonged to the royals, and under the sumptuary laws of Elizabethan England, unless you were granted a royal license, you could not hunt. Punishment for poaching included hanging, castration, and blinding. Few people know this (and I didn’t even know myself until I thought of it), but since the price for poached deer was so high, the English peasants began raising chickens and poaching their own eggs instead. If you had poached eggs this morning, you have nodgecomb to thank.

 

At this point, I probably should insert a line of little asterisks, but I’m not sure, so please just go the next paragraph. It also has something to do with the OED.

In the December census, the OED listed “posilutely” as a newcomer. Although it was born in 1988 in a dog’s mouth (Dodger in the movie “Oliver and Co.), it’s now safe to put in your mouth; it has the OED seal of approval, so you won’t get germs. I don’t know if its counterpart, “absotively,” is in the OED because I don’t have a bookshelf big enough to hold that many volumes or a bank account big enough to buy it.

 

They have an online subscription that I am considering. I hope by the time I sign up “nodgecomb” has been revived. We have a lot in common; not the poaching part, the simpleton part.

 

 

 

F-word Fatigue (Part Two)

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The F-word is getting old

When the f-word rode into town in the early 1960s on his Harley, with his leather jacket, and fresh tattoos, he was everybody’s darling. People just couldn’t get enough of him. He could take people’s breath away just by showing up in a book or on a stage and flexing his muscles.

 

Now he looks a lot like the late Elvis. The extra-wide seat on his Harley isn’t extra enough, and his skull tattoo that used to scare little old ladies is starting to look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Worse yet, have you noticed how often he brings his mother with him when he makes his appearances? I mean, what other curse word does that? I can just hear all the other tough words saying, “Hey, Mr. F-word, where’s your mommy today?”

 

Eventually people are going to tire of him, and stop inviting him over. I won’t feel sorry for him though. He has a cozy retirement home waiting for him over at the OED.