Confession: i’m an anxious hyperlexic. i’ve read (and seemingly memorized) too much for my own good. i use words like there’s no tomorrow, and when a particularly good one pops out of me, it’s usually with no knowledge of the exact and proper definition. This scares me.
I tend to define words by the context in which i initially perceived them to be. However, my own perception is a little skewed. While i typically use most words correctly, i am pressed to provide an actual definition. There’s always this background paranoia that i’ve misused a word, and that i’ll be found out. Lately, in light of certain revelations, i’ve begun to look up words at the slightest sense of apprehension.
One word that had been setting me to wonder was “akimbo”. Now, those of you “in the know” might say that i’ve an ulterior reason for this particular word fascination; set that aside, if you will.
The word to me has always suggested a sense of loose limbs and confident, open posture. I hear “akimbo”, and i visualize the rolling gait of a sailor or cowpoke, knees out, elbows askew. But, in the spirit of my self-appointed task, i turned to research to supply a proper definition.
The Word Detective supplied this vivid definition, courtesy of the late John Ciardi:

“With hands on hips and elbows sharply bent outwards, a body posture indicating impatience, hostility or contempt.”

Well, for those “in the know”, this is a curious turn of phrase! For those not in on the joke, i ask: What words have you been using without having the exact definition at hand? Is it fair, given English’s malleability, that the proper definition be set aside when all parties share the same sense of what they expect the word to mean?


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