• kickshaw •
Pronunciation: kik-shaw • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A fancy dish, high-falutin' Frenchfied food rather than hearty English fare. 2. A doodad, a trinket, a gewgaw: something cheap but showy.
Notes: Today's word seems to be a senseless compound. Kick is kick but Shaw is a surname. You pronounce it pretty much the way it is spelled even though it doesn't seem to make much sense. The pronunciation was probably influenced by rickshaw, a shortening of a Japanese word jin-riki-sha "man-powered-vehicle" even though, as we will see in the Word History, the two words obviously come from two different sides of the world.
In Play: A kickshaw may be edible: "Sue St. Marie laid out a large selection of Frenchy little kickshaws that were as unsavory as the company consuming them." If not, it usually refers to something cute but valueless: "Dusty Rhodes had not endeared himself to his mother by sending her a kickshaw from each of the countries he had passed through over the past 12 years."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the result of folk etymology working on the French phrase quelque chose "something", which is quelque "some" + chose "thing". Folk etymology is the process of changing an unfamiliar foreign word into one or more familiar native words. This is how Old French crevice (Modern French écrevisse) became English crayfish and finally craw[l]fish. Over the years English speakers struggled with the spelling of the French phrase, trying quelque choices, quelkchose, kicke-shoses, and kickshoes along the way. Notice we kept trying to find English words in the phrase until we finally settled on kickshaw.
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