Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ankle Deep in Rankle

We use the word rankle as a synonym for irritating, but it was once a more powerful word. It referred to a festering sore, a putrefying, rotting, wounded or diseased part of the body that exuded pus and other disgusting fluids. It evolved into the milder figurative sense of embittered, riled, or persistently annoyed. Its progenitor was an Old French word meaning an abscess.

Shakespeare used it in the industrial-strength original sense.

  • Richard II: “Fell sorrow's tooth doth never rankle more
    Than when he bites, but lanceth not the sore.”
  • Richard III: “O Buckingham, take heed of yonder dog! 
Look, when he fawns, he bites; and when he bites, 
His venom tooth will rankle to the death: 
Have not to do with him, beware of him.”

There are no direct connections to rankle, but it’s an interesting exercise to trace other words ending in –ankle.

  • Ankle came from a Latin word meaning a bend or a crook.
  • Crankle—to bend or to twist—came from an Old English word meaning to draw oneself together in a bent form.
  • Fankle—to tangle with a rope—came from a nautical word for a rope. Unfankle meant to set free.
  • Hankle—to fasten lightly or to twist—came from a Norse word meaning to coil.
  • Prankle—to caper—is indebted to a Germanic word meaning to prance or to show off.
  • Sprankle—a spark—came from a Frisian word meaning to sparkle.
  • Wankle—precarious or unsettled—came from an Old Germanic word meaning to totter or to waver.

SIDEBAR: Rankle, the band

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

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