Daily Archives: June 17, 2010


In an email discussion on typography, I mistyped smart quotes as smark quotes. One of my colleagues, John Firth, declared it a useful word, “a combination of smart and snarky,” for describing “things that, although worthwhile, are sort of showoff-y, too. Like curly quotation marks.”

Well. I like that. It’s like being smart with a smirk! The mark in it can connect with getting high marks – or with “mark me” in the archaic sense (“look at me”). It might even be a bit smarmy. And surely it’s an attribute of many a shark (of the human kind) – though it sounds rather more like the sound made by a cross between a snake, a duck, and a dog. But, if we’re sticking with animals, I would have to say the key trait of smarkness would be cockiness.

It happens that there is already a word smark in use, though within a limited sphere. That sphere is pro wrestling fandom. In the vocabulary of pro wrestlers, taken right from good old criminal cant that’s been around for more than a quarter millennium, a mark is a gullible person, specifically one who believes that pro wrestling is real, not staged (this would describe me and my brother when we were kids, watching Stampede Wrestling on TV every Saturday – and then my brother would want to try some of those moves out on me… he’s three years older, by the way). This usage comes from mark meaning “target”, which is related to all the other senses of this good old Germanic word (and unrelated to the name Mark). Blend it with smart (another good old Germanic word, meaning first of all “causing pain” – from the verb smart, which we still have – and then proceeding to senses of vigour and acuity and thence to intelligence and looks) and you get a wrestling fan who knows it’s staged, and may in fact pride himself on all his insider knowledge about it (whether he really knows all that much or not), but nonetheless is a fan. A smart mark – a smark. Cocky, perhaps a bit of a pain. Ah, how he may watch the ring with that Weltschmerz of the “in the know,” maybe even a smirk on his face… but let him not forget that, even in the staged fights, there’s a lot of rough-and-tumble and bruising, and a welt (or similar mark) smarts.

So can we use smark to mean “useful but showoffish”? Well, why not, if we can get others to accept it? It rather describes itself, doesn’t it?


“Drupe?” Marica said, proffering a bowl of cherries to her husband, Ronald.

Ronald sighed. “It’s the pits.”

“Oh, come now, a couple of little stones can’t cause so much trouble.”

“Not so much the stones as the stem, of course…” Ronald mumbled.

“But who doesn’t like a cherry?” Marica insisted.

“Cherry!” Ronald snorted. “It’s been years since…” He looked up and focused on the bowl. “Wait. What are we talking about?”

Marica looked at him over the rim of her glasses. “Fruit.”

“I’m not sure how to take that,” Ronald said.

Marica thrust the bowl into his hands, then took one cherry from it and dropped it in her mouth. Two brief chews and she spat the pit expertly into a garbage can with a “ping”; a bit more closed-mouth action and she stuck out her tongue with a knotted stem. She took it off her tongue and tucked it into Ronald’s shirt pocket. “Knots to you,” she said. She turned and went over to the bar, leaving Ronald in his usual state of disjuncture, looking like a dupe.

Having observed at a distance, I came over to Ronald. “Marshalling the drupes?” I said. His face started to muster an outraged and confused look, so I pointed at the bowl. “Cherries are drupes. D-r-u-p-e. A fruit with a single hard stone in the middle. The exocarp, or skin, encloses a mesocarp, the flesh that we eat, in the middle of which is an endocarp, which is the actual seed. Apricots, cherries, peaches, plums, mangoes, all are drupes.”

“Oh,” Ronald said. “I’m not sure I got all of that…”

“You got olive,” I said. “That’s for sure. Overripe olive, to be precise. That’s what the Latin term druppa originally meant; it was taken from a Greek word for ‘olive’, which may have been formed from roots meaning ‘tree’ and ‘ripe’.”

Pause. “You know,” Ronald said, beginning to droop visibly, “I just come to these word tasting things because of Marica.” He looked around for a table and saw none nearby, so he held the bowl out to me. “Mind if I drop these on you? I think I want to go get stoned.” Pause. “Ha ha,” he added drily, and walked off towards Marica.

Maury happened by just then. I held out the bowl. “Drupe?”

“Don’t start,” Maury said. “I don’t mean to be a prude, but I’m not feeling very cherry. I mean cheery.”