Thursday, June 26, 2008


Listener David Gill sent a link relating to the Traverse City Beach Bums and Tim Calderwood, the voice of that Frontier League baseball team.

It seems that a skunk wandered onto the field and stymied the best efforts to remove it without incident. That led David to ask where we got the term skunked.

Currently, it means to be defeated, especially in a shutout. In 1831, it was a New England expression meaning to fail. By 1843, “defeated without making any score” was firmly entrenched. A decade later, it had shaded into “failure to pay a bill” and then into cheating or being cheated. You could be skunked by a salesman who inflated the price.

The verb form is considered slang, and it is derived from the noun. A skunk is responsible for the big stink, of course, so it’s easy to see where the unpleasant connotations come from. The word originally came from the Abenaki tribe.

SIDEBAR: The Beach Bums are Skunked

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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