Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Just Junk

Terry writes that she watched a rerun of NCIS the other night. In the episode (Borderland), Doctor Mallard, the medical examiner, tells Palmer (his assistant) that the word junk originally meant scraps of rope left over aboard a sailing vessel. A bit skeptical, Terry wants to know if there’s a scrap of truth in the assertion.

For once, a TV show was not guilty of folk etymology, a bogus explanation for the origin of a word. In its first appearance in print (1485), junk, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, meant “an old or inferior cable or rope.”

By 1842, it had come to mean “any discarded or waste material that can be put to some use,” and then, “second-hand or discarded articles of little or no use or value; rubbish.”

In our time, it has become a slang term for heroin. More famously, it showed up in a warning by airline passenger John Tyner in 2010 when he warned a TSA agent about to perform a groin search, “Don’t touch my junk!”

SIDEBAR: If you live in the GT region and are over 50, get a team of 3 together for this year's Senior Spelling Bee. Practice rounds at TADL Wed. April 25 & Thurs. April 26 at noon. Main event Friday, May 4th, 1 p.m., at the Gilbert Lodge on Twin Lakes. Call the TC Senior Center for details at 231-922-4911.

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

Check out Mike's program-based books here:

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. In northern Michigan, go to AM-580, WTCM.

There is a collection of podcasts. Go to and click on Podcasts. Scroll down The Ron Jolly Show to find the Words to the Wise audio button.



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