• crank •
krængk • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A tool consisting of a handle at right angles to a shaft (rather like the letter Z) that creates a rotary motion when turned. 2. A crook or twist, as a crank of phrase; 3. An eccentric or grouchy person.
Notes: Today's word may be freely used as a verb in the first sense: to crank an antique car engine, as we had to do before the invention of the electric starter. This sense is preserved today in crankshaft, the main shaft of a car engine which had to be turned to start the engine in antique days. In the second two senses there is an adjective, cranky "eccentric, grouchy", with an adverb, crankily, and its own noun, crankiness.
In Play: The interesting aspect of today's word is its second meaning, which connects the first to the third: "The road to Ephraim's house has so many cranks and twists you could walk there in a straight line faster than you can drive." We have almost forgotten this meaning in the US. The third meaning, of course, is commonplace: "The road to Ephraim's was so crooked that I was too cranky to socialize by the time I arrived."
Word History: Today's word is an original English term from Old English cranc "bent, with a hook", as in cranc-stæf "shepherd's staff with a hook at one end". It arose from an Old Germanic word that apparently meant "bent over, curled up". It is akin to Old English cringan, crang, crungen "to fall in battle", originally meaning "to curl up". This word ultimately emerged as cringe "to shrink with fear" and went into the making of crinkle. This same stem shows up in German and Dutch krank "sick" and, without the N, in English crook(ed). The third sense of today's word apparently derived from the second: a person in a twisted state of mind or otherwise bent out of shape would qualify for the epithet cranky.
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