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Funky

In Word of the week on May 5, 2008 at 2:23 pm

Funky (adjective)

Pronunciation: [‘fung-kee]

Definition: (1) Cowardly (1837 Dickens), (2) depressed, or (3) smelling of old and moldy cheese. The November 1954 issue of Time Magazine referred to “Funky, authentic, swinging blues, down to earth, smelling of earth.” Today its meaning is very diffuse but is, roughly: authentic, less than fresh, earthy, in the broadest senses of these terms.

Usage: Today’s word is used frequently but the meaning is difficult to pin down; we have attempted a brief survey of the possibilities above. The adjective may be compared (funkier, funkiest) and the adverb is “funkily.” The noun may be “funk” or “funkiness.”

Suggested Usage: Today’s word began as a description of a smell and was extended to virtually anything too old, cheesy, or outdated, “After lifting weights for an hour at the gym Brett came home smelling a bit funky with clothes to match.” Today the word can as easily refer to style and fashion as cuisine: “Edna arrived in a hair-do with a funky bouffant straight out of the 50s.”

Etymology: “Funky” has been around in various forms since at least 1623. It probably originated in a dialectal French word, “funkier” from Latin fumigare “to smoke,” a verb based on fumus “smoke” (also the origin of our word “fumes”). This is suggested by the fact that it originally referred to the smell of musty tobacco smoke. Later it became associated with the smell of moldy cheese and then with anything smelling less than fresh. The use of the term “funky jazz” in the 1950s by African Americans to refer to the old, authentic jazz was an attempt to distinguish it from the newer more sophisticated forms being developed by white band leaders.

–Dr. Language, YourDictionary.com

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