• flak •
Pronunciation: flæk • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Antiaircraft fire, rounds from antiaircraft artillery. 2. Heavy abusive criticism.
Notes: Be careful to avoid inserting a C in this word. Some folks think that since it rhymes with black, it should look like black, right? Not really. As the Word History will show, the rhyme of this word is purely coincidental and, even though US dictionaries condone the folk-etymological spelling, this word should be spelled without a C. A flack is a booking agent or publicity man (since 1946) and a bulletproof vest is a flak-jacket, with only one C.
In Play: Today's word started out referring to fire aimed at bombers by antiaircraft artillery on the ground: "Phil Flieger's plane was hit by flying flak on a bombing run but, after a miraculous landing, he jumped out of the cockpit singing an old World War II song, "Coming in on a wing and a prayer." Today, however, this word generally refers to harsh criticism: "Henry took so much flak for suggesting his company produce helicopter ejection seats that he decided to duck staff meetings in the future."
Word History: Today's Good Word first appeared in the 1938 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships. It was borrowed directly from German, where it was an abbreviation for Flugabwehrkanone "flight defense cannon". The German word Flug "flight" comes from the verb fliegen, which shares an origin with English fly. The original root was plau-, which emerged in Lithuanian as plaukti and Russian plavat', both meaning "swim, float, sail". The same original root became plunein "to wash, bathe" in Greek and ended up in English as flow as well as fly. (Before I receive any flak for forgetting, I would like to thank Bryan Goff for suggesting today's excellent Good Word.)