Wednesday, 11 January 2017

'Berk' has Cockney rhyming slang roots

A Commonwealth insult is to call someone a 'berk'. This is an abbreviation of the rhyming slang euphemism, "Berkshire Hunt" or - sometimes - "Berkley Hunt".

If you don't know how Cockney rhyming slang works, it is finding a pair of linked words, with one that rhymes with the base word. You then use the non-rhyming word as a synonym for your original word. For example, the base word "stairs", has the linked pair of "apples and pears"; then you go up the 'apples' (not the stairs).

Michael Quinion, the etymological mage of, confirms this here, while noting that, despite it looking as if it should be pronounced as "burk", Berkshire is actually pronounced as "Barkshih".

Most people use the term 'berk' without realising the underlying rhyming slang base word that they are actually referring to.

Regardless, 'berk' is now simply considered to be a fairly mild - and vaguely sympathetic - way of telling someone they have been a plank...

Ha, ha: which I assume comes from "thick as a --".

Ah, the versatility of the English language :-)


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