Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Skiff & Pank Show


Two snow-related words came up on the program, which shouldn’t come as a surprise in northern Michigan.

Jake from Traverse City (MI) asked about a skiff of snow. It turns out that it’s not related to the skiff that means a flatbottomed boat with a shallow draft.

Our skiff is a light flurry or covering of snow. It can also refer to a gust of wind or a rain shower. It seems to have come from a Scandinavian word that means to shift or to move. Additionally, the Oxford English Dictionary hints that a Scottish word meaning “to brush against” may have had an influence. So when you see a dusting of snow being moved over ice by the wind, you’re looking at a skiff of snow.

Then Kevin from Cedar (MI) asked about panking the snow, which means to tamp it down. It might be a blend of pack and spank, but the OED also points to a Scandinavian word that meant to tap or to beat.

The word is especially prevalent in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, though it shows up in other snowy states, too. (Montana and upper New York State come to mind.) When you put on snoeshoes and stamp out a path from the house to the garage, you are panking the snow. You could, alternatively, use the back of a shovel. You might also pank the sides of a sand castle, pank the dirt over the potatoes, or pank your pillow to make it more comfortable. Whether this should be done while munching on a pasty is unknown.

No connection, but the acronym PANK stands for Professional Aunt, No Kids.


SIDEBAR 1: Lady Pank

SIDEBAR 2: The lexicon of snow


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


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