Iva Cheung has come up with yet another winner – yet another cartoon of the sort I wish I had thought of first. She’s letting me reproduce it here, but click on it to link through to her blog, please. I present it as the first course in this word tasting menu.
“Swoopstake?” you perhaps think. “Did she just make that up? If so, why that?”
Oh, but really, do you think someone as thoughtful and careful as Iva would just make up some word indiscriminately, willy-nilly? Of course not. She considered all her options carefully and then swooped in and staked her claim on this one.
The word is, to be sure, archaic. Obsolete, even. Until now, of course. Does it look rather familiar? Perhaps like sweepstake but with eyes agoggle oo rather than heavier lidded ee? Not sweeping like a broom or an arm but swooping like an eagle or something else rapacious?
Well, you pretty much have it. Swoopstake is an old (Shakespeare-era) synonym for sweepstake. Or, more to the point, for what sweepstake meant then.
And what did it mean then? Picture a table on which are laid all the bets on something – all the stakes on it: your stake is your bet. If you happen to win all of them, you can swoop in on them and sweep them all into your purse. Sweepstake is the older word by at least a couple of centuries, and the more durable one, but swoopstake made a pleasing alteration at a time when the sense was still transparent. And the sense that they made with it was one of grabbing everything indiscriminately.
Which is the sense that Iva is using: “(adverb, obsolete): In an indiscriminate manner.” Does this seem a suitable replacement for off? Note that in compound verbs such as jerk off, the off is actually not a preposition but an adverb, and the sense is dispersive and/or conclusive. It’s not the same as away or around (consider that being jerked around by someone is quite different from… well, you get the point). Is swoopstake a synonym for off? No, not quite, but why need it be? In these colloquial compound verbs, we really just need the second word to put the dirty cherry on top of the fairly plain verb. Why not do it with a flourish?
Which is why Iva winz all teh stuffs. With one swell foop she pulls it off.