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Quirky

/ˈkwɜrki/

Adjective

1. Having or full of quirks.

Etymology:

1806, “shifty,” from quirk. Sense of “idiosyncratic” first recorded 1960.

Quirk

(kwɜːk)

Noun

1. An individual peculiarity of character; mannerism or foible

2. An unexpected twist or turn: a quirk of fate

3. A continuous groove in an architectural moulding

4. A flourish, as in handwriting

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I’ve always thought of myself as being rather quirky. I had no idea that the word originally meant shifty, but I still stand by my identity as a quirky person. It just shows how far the word has travelled since 1805.

I find the above definition, which I took from a dictionary, slightly misleading, however. For the definition of quirky to be ‘having or full of quirks’ is a bit, well, obvious. It doesn’t expand on the meaning we have before us; in fact, that meaning would presumably have already been ascertained. I doubt that someone who doesn’t know what quirky means will know what quirk means, so the definition helps them no a jot.

This dictionary-user will presumably then go to ‘quirk’ in the dictionary, to complete the job the dictionary should have done for them.

But which is it? If someone says they are quirky, do they mean they have a continuous groove? Or their handwriting is particularly fierce?

Presumably the first definition of quirk is what the definition of quirky was referring to – but is it restricted to that? For all I know, a building with continuous grooves is a quirky one. Someone’s dramatic handwriting is quirky. The meaning could extend this far; the dictionary has failed us.

However, let us look beyond this slight, and enjoy the sound of quirky. Say it a few times. Notice, for instance, that contact between two parts of your mouth is only made twice, and at the same place in your mouth (the soft palette and your tongue, to be precise). And yet the word had a number of different sounds. Notice how your lips complete the qu, notice the difference in the ir and the y sounds: does your mouth change that much between the two?

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