• quirk •
Pronunciation: kwêrk • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An idiosyncrasy, oddity, or unexpected peculiarity of behavior. 2. A sudden twist of events, a strange, out of the ordinary occurrence. 3. A physical twist, turn, or curve, as 'a slight quirk in the corner of her lips'.
Notes: This peculiar little word is accompanied by a substantial family: two adjectives, quirksome "having quirks" and quirky "having quirks" or "like a quirk". It may be used as a verb that is semantically quirky, having two meanings seemingly unrelated to the noun: "to attack with quips" and "to deceive or trick a person", now rare.
In Play: A quirk must be unusual and unexpected: "Bill Jerome Holmes bought his new house for its charming quirks and eccentricities." In addition, it may also be a lucky break: "Guy Wire was among the survivors of the plane crash because of a quirk of fate: he arrived late and missed the plane."
Word History: Today's Good Word is probably related to torque, distort, and thwart, though there is a fly in this etymological ointment: how did the T become QU [kw]? This shift might have been a sympathetic one reflecting the final [kw] in the PIE form, but we have no evidence of such a shift. Assuming this origin, however, we see a semantic thread that has been maintained through several IE languages. Latin torquere "to twist", for the PIE word terkw- "to twist" would have had an O-variant, torkw-. The form also explains the English borrowing from French torch, which was originally a bunch of twigs twisted together. The E-variant might also have produced English queer via a natural loss of the final Kw. (It is no quirk that Rob Towart, a long-time contributor to this series, suggested today's lovely little Good Word.)