• fossick •
fah-sik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive
Meaning: 1. To search for bits and pieces of gold left behind in abandoned mines or mining sites. 2. To search or rummage for something casually, usually in a random fashion.
Notes: Today's Good Word expresses a concept represented by at least three different expressions around the English-speaking world. In the northern and western US states we rummage through a closet or attic looking for things. In the southeastern states we plunder through the same locations. In Australia and New Zealand, however, we fossick around until we find what we are looking for. It is always the fossickers who do the fossicking, wherever they might be.
In Play: A good fossick usually can produce surprising results: "Lucky Dogget found a first edition of a Hemingway novel while fossicking through the shelves of the Intimate Bookshop." If it gets out of hand, though, you just might find things you are not looking for: "Marvin, I was fossicking around in the attic this morning and found this lock of hair of a color different from mine. Do you know whose it is?"
Word History: The word fossick may have started its life as a noun referring to a troublesome person. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that the first Australians who fossicked for gold were a troublesome lot, so that their name might have easily become the verb for their activity. Other sources suggest that today's word originated in a dialect of Cornwall, England, as a verb meaning pretty much what it means today, "to ferret out". East Anglia apparently had a word (or two), fursick or fossick meaning "to putter around"—another possible source. However, no one has any idea how any of these words came to be in English in the first place or which of them actually gave rise to today's Good Word.
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