When I was little and I came home from school, my mom would always be adamant that I tell her one thing I’d learned that day. It didn’t have to be academic – I could say that I learned my friend Lindsey’s big brother played the bassoon in the school band… but I had to be able to report something daily.
It seems simple enough now, but as a child this was somewhat of a stressor for me. I would ride the bus home racking my brain, trying to come up with something I knew today that I didn’t know yesterday.
It wasn’t long before I cracked the code – that is to say, I started seeking out new facts so that I could have answers prepared when I walked through the door. I would walk around asking my friends random questions, and – when that got old – I would flip through trivia books and write my favorite nuggets of information in my journal.
I became so obsessed with this endeavor that I soon became little flaming ball of random fun facts. I could rattle off the difference between a regular horse and an Arabian horse (Arabians have one fewer vertebrae in their back), I could tell you one of the original Coca Cola ingredients (Cocaine), and I could explain why half of hypothermia victims are found naked (blood rushes to vital organs and back, causing skin to become flush and in an altered state of judgement victims think it’s logical to peel off their clothes) “Did you know…” became my favorite expression, and before long I was a walking, talking trivia reference guide.
Given my obsession with literature, I became the most interested in facts about the English language. This trait followed me into adulthood… and to this day I am still giddy as a schoolgirl (literally) when I learn something new about my native tongue.
Which is why I was fascinated when I came across this blog post on Dictionary.com (oh, what, not everybody reads the Dictionary’s blog?), which explored the lexical history of a word I use pretty regularly: awkward.
The gist, in case you’re too engrossed in this blog to go galavanting off into another one (wishful thinking), is that the word ‘awkward’ comes from the same directional language family as ‘forward’ and ‘backward.’ And the root ‘awk’ literally means ‘turned the wrong way.’
So if you lived in the 16th century and said “that’s awkward,” your fellow ruffle-collared gentlemen would probably think you were referring to your croquet ball’s perilous turn away from its target.
But in any case, if you go home tonight and your mom demands to know what you learned today, you know what to do. You’re welcome.