• akimbo •
ê-kim-bo • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: (Standing) with the hands resting on the hips, elbows bent and sticking out (as in the photograph).
Notes: This adjective is unusual in two respects: it follows its noun, rather than preceding it, and it is used mostly in one expression 'with arms akimbo': "She stood with arms akimbo, daring him to approach her." There are no nouns, adverbs, or verbs associated with this word; it is the purest of lexical orphans.
In Play: The arms akimbo posture usually connotes truculence or defiance: "Mama's standing at the door calling you with arms akimbo. You're in trouble." (You hear kids saying it all the time.) This connotation has led to a wider range of usages where truculence or defiance alone are intended: "Courtney's eyes went akimbo when she saw her husband talking with his old girlfriend."
Word History: It might seem that we are dealing with a foreign borrowing, Native American or Japanese. It is of dubious origin but nothing as exotic as these languages. In Middle English it was in kenebowe, perhaps from Middle English phrase in keen bow "at a sharp angle", with keen in its Middle English sense of "sharp" + bow "arch". It might be a borrowed Scandinavian word akin to Icelandic kengboginn "bow-bent", or Old Norse, 'i keng boginn' meaning "bent in a curve". Since the stance resembles a jug with two handles, vain attempts have been made to associate it with Old French chane or kane "jug". However it started, it eventually dissolved into a kenbow and, finally, into today's odd little offering from alphaDictionary.
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