• pukka •
Pronunciation: pêk-ê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Genuine, authentic, real, bona fide. 2. Excellent, superior, of top quality, the best of its kind.
Notes: Today's Good Word is not to be confused with pooka, the mischievous Irish spirit of folklore, and Mary Chase's play, Harvey. One comes from Hindu, the other from Irish Gaelic. Pukka sounds so much like the British pronunciation of pucker, it was widely spelled pucker throughout the 18th century. This word is closely associated with sahib, formerly a respectful way to address a foreigner in India. A pukka sahib is man of good upbringing, good family, socially well connected.
In Play: Although you occasionally bump into today's Good Word in North America, it is more popular in the UK: "That's a right pukka telly you have there, mate." Pukka not only means "excellent", it also means "genuine": "Burney Butz is not a very good cook in general, but he makes a pukka chili." For more on pukka, read "How we got pukka" in the Prospect Blog by clicking here.
Word History: Today's word, as mentioned above, comes from Hindi pakka "cooked, ripe", inherited from Sanskrit pakva "cooked, ripe, fully developed", a noun from pacati "he cooks". This word shares its origin with Greek pepon "ripe" and peptein "to cook". This latter word provided Greek with the adjective peptikos "digested" (digestion is often seen as cooking in a variety of languages), which English borrowed via the Latin borrowing pepticus as peptic. The Russian verb peku "(I) bake" comes from the same original word as pukka. (Today gratitude is owed Paul Ogden, one of the pukka editors of this series for several years now, and whose suggestion today's Good Word is based on.)