skink

This must be the present tense of something smelly, right? You know, skink, skank, skunk – just like stink, stank, stunk? Funny, when you have sink, sank, sunk, you’re in fluid, probably water, nothing necessarily fetid. But add that voiceless stop and the smell kicks in. (Less so with p: spink, spank, spunk? More punkish. And then there’s the musty recollection of Leon Spinks, for those who remember that he beat Muhammad Ali in 1978.)

Except that unlike skunks (and, imputedly, skanks), skinks aren’t notably malodorous. You might do better to kick off the second k and see the skin. What skin? A squamous one, no fur in sight. A skink is not like skunk or mink; it is a kind of lizard. Actually about 1200 kinds of lizards, if by kind you mean ‘species’. They vary quite a bit in size, appearance, the length (and even presence) of legs (usually short, though), and a host of other details, including how they give birth to their young (live? with eggs?).

But skink is such a nice and ready formation of sounds and letters, it’s not so surprising that there are several kinds of skink the word, too. The lizard gets its name via Latin scincus from Greek skigkos σκίγκος (note that gk is pronounced in Greek as we would pronounce nk – the actual sound is [ŋk], so we have the same manner of articulation in a different place, and the Greeks have the same place of articulation with a different manner). But there’s nothing keeping such a word from showing up in a Germanic origin too.

Such as a word for the shank (and indeed cognate with shank). It has come to refer to a kind of soup. And then there is another skink cognate with Middle Dutch schenk ‘cup-bearer’ and schenken ‘bear a cup; serve alcoholic beverage’. In fact, it’s two skinks: one a verb meaning ‘pour or serve alcholic beverage’, the other a noun referring to not the server but the beverage itself – often a weak, poor, or, um, thin kind. (There used to be a skink that referred to the server, but it’s obsolete.)

So much meaning, and in a word that isn’t really seen that often in common usage. Just like the lizard: variety, but short legs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s