Words Worth Knowing: Awkward

The Word Worth Knowing this week is Awkward.

Don’t you hate those moments when you are trying to tell a joke and you just can’t remember the words to the punch line, no matter how hard you try? Your friends don’t get to fully understand you due to that missing words. What an awkward situation!! Don’t you think?

At least you won’t forget the term Awkward anymore, because you are about to learn so many fun facts about it that you will be ready to use it at any time without hesitation. But first, let’s begin with the official meanings of the word.


Dictionary Definition


Awkward: adjective. Lacking dexterity or skill (as in the use of hands), or showing the result of a lack of expertness. (Merriam Webster Dictionary).

Awkward: adjective. Lacking ease or grace (as of movement or expression) or lacking the right proportions, size, or harmony of parts. (Merriam Webster Dictionary).

Awkward: adjective. Lacking social grace and assurance or causing embarrassment. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)


According to this, awkward is a multifunctional word, and that’s why we use it so much. The Collins English Dictionary says that awkward is a pretty common word, figuring among the 10,000 most commonly used English words. Here are some examples of uses for the term in daily life:

− “Many of us know from experience that growing up doesn’t come without sometimes awkward, sometimes funny and sometimes even heartbreaking moments”.

From Az Central website Article: Arizona Storytellers brings you stories of the little, big moments of growing up. 2018

− “But that’s where the problem lies: traditional neck pillows are bulky, awkward, and likely to snap off after a few uses”.

From the GQ Brand Article: The TRTL Is a Travel Pillow That Doesn’t Make You Look Goofy. 2018

− “A COLOSSAL superyacht has been snapped performing an awkward U-turn on the Thames in London”.

From the news.com website Article: Billionaire’s superyacht makes awkward manoeuvre. 2018


Forward, Backward, Afterward and… Awkward?


The people who invented the word awkward were not even remotely thinking in the meaning we give to it in present days. Awkward was for them an expression for direction, just like forward and backward. But you must be wondering: A direction to where? To uncomfortable situations? Well yes, indeed it was something like that.

In the mid-14th century, people from Scotland and Northern England still used to talk with some words derived from Scandinavian sources. One of those words was Awk, which comes from the Norse afugr and meant “back-handed” “turned backwards” or “wrong, contrary”. And ward had the same meaning it has now: an adverbial suffix expressing direction.

So back then, if you were going awkward, you were just heading in the wrong direction, whichever it may be.

But although this literal meaning is archaic and officially obsolete, that old definition doesn’t lack truth even in present days. Isn’t feeling awkward the same that feeling that you are in a place where you are not supposed to be? Or that you are behaving in a wrong or socially unaccepted mode? Or that you are handling some tool or performing some activity in the opposite way you should?

It seems to me that “Going to the wrong way” keeps having plenty of sense –at least metaphorically− for the current meaning of awkward.

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