Saturday, February 04, 2006
How many website make you laugh out loud?
From one of my oldest favorite websites "the Word Detective" "Amuck" Dear Mr. Morris: A magazine article I read recently described a babysitter as being unfit because she allowed the children in her care to "run amuck," which immediately made me wonder about that phrase. Any clues? -- Doris Sherman, Toledo, OH. Do you mean "any clues to where the children went"? I'd check the coat closet, personally. If they're not there, they're probably in the cupboard under the kitchen sink. I used to be very good at eluding my babysitter for hours at a time, or at least until she forgot about my feeding an entire jar of grape jam to the dog. Of course, the dog usually reminded her later in the evening anyway. I think the reason I don't remember any of my babysitters very clearly is probably that I met each of them only once. Still, as trying as I may have been to my babysitters, I never actually "ran amuck" in the original sense, and I doubt that the children in that magazine article did, either. "Amuck," more properly spelled "amok," comes from the Malay word "amoq," meaning "a state of murderous frenzy." In English, the word "amok" dates back to the 16th century and the first contacts between Europeans and the Malay inhabitants. The standard story of the word is that the Malays were "susceptible to bouts of depression and drug use," which then led them to engage in murderous rampages, wherein anyone in the path of the person "running amok" was likely to be sliced and diced with a native sword known as a "kris." One need not be overly politically-correct to suspect that accounts of the phenomenon by Europeans may have been somewhat melodramatic and culturally biased, but the word entered English with the same general meaning, that of "murderous frenzy." As is often the case, however, the meaning of the phrase was diluted as "running amok" became a metaphor in English for someone who was simply "out of control" in some respect, and not necessarily chopping folks up. Still, you'll never catch me babysitting. And from some angel on the QA list, this link which I am wallowing in at the moment: Radio Paradise