Printable Version
Pronunciation: awk-wêrd Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Clumsy, ungainly, ungraceful, inconvenient.

Notes: Other dictionaries list 4-10 different meanings, all of which can be captured by the literal or figurative meanings of the words I have chosen in the definition above. I think they can all be conceived as one sense. The adverb for this adjective is awkwardly and the noun, awkwardness.

In Play: It is easy to find awkward moments in all our lives: "Henry found it awkward introducing his wife to a woman she knew to be his former girlfriend." Awkwardness is possible even when nothing is said: "An awkward silence followed when Mervyn asked his sister how her husband was and she replied that he had died a year ago."

Word History: In the 14th century today's word meant only "in the wrong direction", comprising awk "wrong" + adverbial suffix -weard "in the direction of". Awk was borrowed from Old Norse öfugr "backward". This word came to the Vikings via their immediate Germanic origins from Proto-Indo-European apo "off, away", which also provided English with its native words, of, off and aft. -Ward, on the other hand, goes back to PIE wert- "to turn, wind", which also went into the making of wreath and writhe. The same PIE root produced in Latin a host of words based on the verb vertere "to turn" borrowed by English: invert, pervert, convert, etc. (It would be very awkward, indeed, to forget to thank Doug Coppock for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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