• funky •
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Moldy, musty-smelling, like body odor, rank cheese, or stale smoke. 2. Down-to-earth, earthy, soulful, uncomplicated but a little offbeat (jazz).
Notes: Funky may be compared, funkier and funkiest, and used adverbially, funkily. The noun is funkiness. The meaning of funky, however, is another question altogether. It is used to refer to unpleasant smells such as stale smoke, musty cheese, or armpits. However, everyone seems to have their own idea of what it means when referring to music. Our second meaning today is more a collection of possible synonyms than a real definition.
In Play: This word began its life referring to slightly foul but tolerable smells and maintains that sense today: "April Showers dreaded washday because she had to smell her husband's and sons' funky clothes." Today the word can as easily refer to soulful, earthy styles in just about anything: "Belle O'Donnaugh was known in the community for the funky parties she threw."
Word History: Today's Good Word has been used in reference to the musty smell of stale smoke since around 1623. This suggests that it might have been borrowed from the word funkier "to smoke", found in some French dialects. Funkier originated as Latin fumigare "to smoke", derived from fumus "smoke", the origin of English fumes. (The literary French word is fumer "to smoke".) Later the smell of stale tobacco smoke was transferred to musty cheese and then on to other musty, foul odors. Funky connected with jazz in the 1950s to distinguish the more "aged" hence authentic jazz styles from the modern ones emerging then. Since then, its meaning has moved in many directions. (Our gratitude to Cathy Hilborn Feng of Hong Kong for suggesting today's funky Good Word is very authentic and sincere.)
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