• fluke •
Pronunciation: fluk • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A flounder or other flatfish, or a flatworm, such as a the liver fluke. 2. A large flat barb-like object, such as the blade at either end of an anchor or a whale's tail. 3. An accidental stroke of good luck.
Notes: So long as we resist the temptation to spell this word flook, it presents no problems other than keeping its fluky meanings straight. The adjective fluked and its antonym flukeless refer to having or not having flat barbs, while fluky means either "infested with flatworms" or "accidental, fortuitous". This word, of course, opens the door to flukiness, which we are also free to use.
In Play: I like using this word to describe the tails of whales: "A huge sperm whale surfaced to express her enormousness to the world, gave a great wave of her fluke, then disappeared again into the profound chill of the Pacific." However, it is most alluring when referring to the accidental and unpredictable: "It would have been an unbearable day on the beach without the occasional flukes of wind that rifled presumptuously through her hair."
Word History: The original word from which the three meanings above derived was Proto-Indo-European plak- "flat", which shows up in Norwegian flak "flat piece", borrowed by English as flake. It also was adjusted to flaga "flat stone" in Norwegian, taken over by English as flag and flagstone. Fluke is the native English version of the same PIE root. In the 8th century it referred to flatfish, but its meaning migrated to the barbs on anchors by analogy with the shape of flounders. The third meaning is something of a mystery. I can only speculate as a surf and pier fisherman in coastal North Carolina, where fishermen never fish for flounder (flounder are gigged), but occasionally they catch one. So, when they do, it is a fluke fluke. Just a guess. (It is no fluke that Jackie Strauss supplied us with this lovely native English word: she has suggested many just as good over the past few years.)