Word Hoard

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Blind Side

I've finally finished Pigskin: The Early Years of Football. I really liked it. I liked that it mentioned a lot of Chicago Bears players, but there were also some great anecdotes and glimpses of players before they were anything or anyone. The book also reinforced my desire to visit one of the cradles of professional football, in Ohio, Canton, Massillon etc. My finishing is good news because now I can finally start reading another book about football that I bought about the same time I checked out Pigskin, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis. He also wrote the much ballyhooed Moneyball, which touted a new approach to success in the economically disparate world of Major League Baseball. I didn't read that book, but purchased his newest based on his reputation and interview on the Colbert Report.

So tonight I started it, and I'm very pleased. One of the characters of the book, Michael Oher (oar), is repeatedly described as a "freak of nature." So I thought freak might be a good word to look at.

Freak, according to Bartleby.com, doesn't have a known origin. But their second entry does. And I really like this new to me definition and usage. It probably isn't a portmanteau of fleck and streak, but I like that idea.

The OED says the first freak is probably of dialectal origin. The second freak also comes from the first one but perhaps is an alteration of freck by association with streak.

Freck first is an obsolete adjective exclusively Scottish and north. It means eager, prompt, ready in Old English and strong, vigorous in the Early 16th cent. This starts as faihufriks, avaricious in Gothic, then Old Norse frekr, greedy, then German frech, bold, insolent, and Old High German freh, covetous, greedy, which is = to Old English frec, fric, fraec.

The second freck, originally the past participle freckt, abbreviation of freckled, is from the early 17th century and means to mark with spots or freckles; dapple. The OED has some disagreement with Bartleby.com on the origin of freckle, but that's okay. Suffice it to say that the OED goes to Old Norse with Swedish and Danish connections, while Bart goes to Old Icelandic. Not a large departure.

Back to freak, the first meaning in the mid-16th century was caprice, whim, a vagary, and it is used to great effect by some fine authors:

R.L. Stevenson - You should be able to stop and go on, and follow this way or that, as the freak takes you.

C. Bronte - A decent quiescence under the freak of manner, gave me the advantage.

I leave you with a quote from the Biology teacher of Mr. Oher after she gave him a test verbally:

"'Classified' overwhelmed him. 'Science has its own vocabulary,' she said. 'He didn't know it. He didn'tknow what a cell was, or an atom. He didn't have the foundation to figure out meanings through prefixes and suffixes. He didn't know what the prefixes and suffixes were--they might as well have been Greek.'"

Yes, they might as well have been.


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