brackish

Laurie took a sip from his glass. “Brack!”

“Old brack water?” I said.

He shook his head and spluttered. “Brock! York! Guelph!” Or maybe he was just yucking and yexing.

I decided to test the hypothesis that his distaste for the water was equal to his distaste for certain Ontario universities. “What was it, loo water? Would you like some rye instead?” (Waterloo and Ryerson, like the other three, are also not the University of Toronto or McMaster, Laurie’s almae matres.)

Laurie wiped his mouth. “Brackish. Send it back.” Then a thought occurred to him. “Is that onomatopoeia? Brackish? Doesn’t sound like water to me.”

“I wonder,” I said. “More likely we’re going at it brackwards: gross salty water may seem flat and cracked like ‘brack’ because of the sound of brackish.” I saddled up a computer and did some looking up. “Seems to come from Middle Dutch brak, ‘salty’ or ‘worthless’. The trail is kind of lost after that.”

I kept looking while Laurie sought out something better to drink. “Maybe some backwater with bark and a crab in it?” he said over his shoulder. “Or Aristophanes’ frogs, brakakakax koax koax?”

“Well, that was ‘brekekekex,’ but…” I said, snorkelling the internet. Actually, snorkelling is perhaps not a good word for it, as brackish water nauseates me, too, and I have a consequently bad record when snorkelling. But anyway. “There was a brack that was a loud noise or outcry, but that’s obsolete,” I said. “It could also mean a break or rupture. Oh, and there’s an Irish seed cake. And there’s bracken, which is a kind of fern.” I looked up. “Of course there’s brachy, a Greek prefix for ‘wide’, as in brachydactyly. The wide brackish Sargasso Sea? And there’s Georges Braque, a cubist painter, many of whose works were shades of brown and black. And of course the rather distasteful mania for collegiate basketball playoff brackets that comes around every March.”

“Give it a break,” Laurie said, handing me a glass of beer, another for himself in the other hand. “At least these won’t be brackish.”

“Until we belch: ‘brack!’” I said. Laurie pulled a face. I sipped. I paused. I pulled a face too. “Um, what kind of beer is this?”

“Let me see… something like Busch. Or Pabst. Or Schlitz.”

“Aw, man,” I said. “Rule number one: Don’t drink beer that sounds like a beer can opening!”

Thanks to Laurie Miller for suggesting today’s word. I hope he doesn’t mind my putting rather more words into his mouth than he used in suggesting it – but he did supply the university yexing.

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