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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu Jan 25, 2018 10:48 pm

• gimcrack •

Pronunciation: jim-kræk • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A trifle, knick-knack, bric-a-brac, a gewgaw, a piece of trumpery; a cheap, showy item.

Notes: This word was sometimes written as jimcrack, which may have led to its use in the folk song, "Blue Tail Fly", popularized in the 1950s by Burl Ives. The chorus began with "Jim crack corn, and I don't care". It comes with an adjective, gimcracky "having or like gimcracks", and a noun, gimcrackery "gimcracks collectively".

In Play: The basic meaning of the word is "cheap (showy) knick-knacks": "Maude Lynn Dresser's house is jam packed with gewgaws and gimcracks from all over the world." But it is used more often as an adjective than as a noun: "Rusty Hook's gimcrack fishing lures are better at attracting the eyes of fishermen than of fish."

Word History: This word referred to mechanical contrivances in the 1630s, though it could refer to a showy person in the 1610s. It is of uncertain origin. It could be a variation of Middle English gibecrake, the name of a carved ornament on wooden furniture. This word is surmised to be from Old French giber "to rattle, shake" + a special sense of Middle English crak "preeminent, superior", Modern English crack, as in 'He is a crack lawyer'. Gimcrack in the 18th century could also mean "person who makes mechanical contrivances". All this is just rampant speculation, though. (Now let's thank Chris Berry for recommending today's crack Good Word, and not a lexical gimcrack.)
• The Good Dr. Goodword

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Re: Gimcrack

Postby bnjtokyo » Fri Jan 26, 2018 10:28 pm

Dr. Goodword, bringing up the "Blue Tail Fly" to illustrate the meaning of "gimcrack," only makes me more curious. What is "gimcrack corn"? On the internet, we find "corn" can be slang for "moonshine whisky" but moonshine, while cheap and shoddy, is completely lacking in showiness. The internet also suggests "corn" may refer to the poor rations that slave on a plantation would have received. Again, cheap and shoddy, yes. But showy, superficially attractive, no.

Can anyone provide an explanation of "gimcrack" and "gimcrack corn" in "The Blue Tail Fly"?

Perry Lassiter
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Re: Gimcrack

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sat Jan 27, 2018 3:37 pm

I think it's not gimcrack corn, but Jim or Jimmy, or possibly Jimmie. The next line is "My Johnny's gone away." It's almost a nonsense rhyme with a catchy tune. I always heard it "Jimmy," probably to balance "and I." To word it "Jim" ignores the "and" to balance the two phrases without the copula. Someone with a background in folk music might want to weigh in here. Has Johnny left her romantically or gone to war, or just what?

PS - thanks for the comment on "crack." I've wondered where that adjective came from, as in "he's a crack pilot."

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