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mudlark
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2014/07/19
6:48am
deaconB
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“I controlled a grin. By gum, he wasn’t going to have a mud lark sitting within his walls.” – Rex Stout (Some Buried Caesar)

According to the dictionary, a mudlark is one who scavenges rivers at low tide to find stuff in the mud, or a street urchin, or a racehorse that’s a good mudder. I think lark was intended, and the added “mud” was thought to add a little piquancy.

But the meadowlark, skylark and other “lark” birds are apparently characterized by an unusually long straight hind claw.  That doesn’t explain why “have a lark” would have evolved.  Does the lark family have a song or behavior that seems particularly carefree?  And mudlark seemsto have come from mud + lark.  Is grubbing in filth all that carefree, or is the lark a scavenger bird?

Kicks just keep gettin’ harder to find
And all your kicks ain’t bringin’ you peace of mind
Before you find out it’s too late, girl
You better get straight

2014/07/19
2:00pm
faresomeness
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The Online Etymology Dictionary has these:

lark (n.1) Look up lark at Dictionary.com“songbird,” early 14c., earlier lauerche (c.1200), from Old English lawerce (late Old English laferce), from Proto-Germanic *laiw(a)rikon (cognates: Old Saxonlewerka, Frisian liurk, Old Norse lævirik, Dutch leeuwerik, German Lerche), of unknown origin. Some Old English and Old Norse forms suggest a compound meaning “treason-worker,” but there is no folk tale to explain or support this.

lark (n.2) Look up lark at Dictionary.com“spree, frolic,” 1811, possibly shortening of skylark (1809), sailors’ slang “play rough in the rigging of a ship” (larks were proverbial for high-flying), or from English dialectal lake/laik “to play” (c.1300, from Old Norse leika “to play,” from PIE *leig- “to leap”) with intrusive -r- common in southern British dialect. The verb lake, considered characteristic of Northern English vocabulary, is the opposite of work but lacks the other meanings of play. As a verb, from 1813. Related: Larked;larking.

Eric Partridge (Origins, A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, 1983) is close to the above, though he does not mention skylark, as sailors’ slang. His listing for “lark” reads in part:

1) the bird, whence folklorishly, the plant larkspur, shaped like a lark’s spur. [so that would be the “unusually long straight hind claw” that deaconB mentions.]

2) lark, to play about

Partridge refers this back to an English dialectical word, “lake”, that itself may be related to Lithuanian laigyti “to run wild”  and from Sanskrit rejate “he shakes (e.g., with laughter), or trembles (e.g.,with pleasure).

Aren’t you glad you asked! The “high flying” of larks may well have transferred a meaning to sailors’ rough play; my wife, who is a birder, but not an ornithologist, thinks the bird’s behavior is a likely source of the phrase “have a lark.”

Somewhere, I think on this forum, I recall reading that Partridge’s scholarship was questionable. But I have no idea, either about him, or his online successors.

 

2014/07/19
7:46pm
deaconB
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faresomeness said
    
Partridge refers this back to an English dialectical word, “lake”, that itself may be related to Lithuanian laigyti “to run wild”  and from Sanskrit rejate “he shakes (e.g., with laughter), or trembles (e.g.,with pleasure).

The “run wild” would go well with “Lake Pipes”, wouldn’t it?

Aren’t you glad you asked! The “high flying” of larks may well have transferred a meaning to sailors’ rough play; my wife, who is a birder, but not an ornithologist, thinks the bird’s behavior is a likely source of the phrase “have a lark.

From what I glommed, I thought larks were not found in the new world. It must be nice having a birder in the family; I always seem to have strange questions after observing birds.

Somewhere, I think on this forum, I recall reading that Partridge’s scholarship was questionable. But I have no idea, either about him, or his online successors.

Marsha, Marsha,Marsha, how could anyone question a Partridge’s opinions on birds?  Of course, I only tonight realized that Lincoln Kinnear Barnett was missing a trailing “e” on his surname, making it unlikely that he and Martha were related, so my own scholarship is pretty poor.

Thanks to you and to the Missuz.

 

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