These days novels and films are filled with quirky characters. What exactly is quirky, & what words come close to meaning the same thing?
The word quirky was born in 1806, when it meant shifty. It came from the 1500s word quirk, which meant evasion. It wasn’t until 1960 that quirky meant idiosyncratic.
Coined by Hunter S. Thompson, the word gonzo came to English in 1971, meaningweird, bizarre, idiosyncratic. Though we’re not 100% certain, & Thompson’s gonzo leanings have kept him tight-lipped on the matter, gonzo may have been inspired by an Italian word meaning rude & sottish, or a Germanic word for goose.
In the 1400s, nutty meant nut-like. By the 1820s, it meant in love, & by 1898 it came to mean unbalanced or idiosyncratic.
Someone who is aberrant is wandering from the usual course. We’ve had this word since 1798. Its initial usage applied generally to the animal and plant kingdoms.
Since 1938 we’ve had the word off-beat (or offbeat). It was born in the world of music, & was almost immediately applied to idiosyncratic humans.
The Old English word utlendisc referred to the customs or people of a foreign country. In time, xenophobia & discomfort with “other” took their toll on this word’s meaning. The word it has become, outlandish, now means odd or bizarre.
In 1866 the word screwball referred to an unexpected sort of pitch in the game of cricket. By 1928, baseball welcomed screwball into its lexical arms to refer to an erratic pitch. By 1938, Carol Lombard’s comedy got labeled screwball comedy, & ever since, the word screwball can be used to identify a person who is unbalanced or idiosyncratic.
In the comments section, I’m hoping you’ll nominate a character from fiction or the silver screen who might be defined with one of the above words.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the Merriam Webster, OED, Collins Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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