Printable Version
Pronunciation: fowk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. People in general, ordinary people: 'folk hero', 'folklore'. 2. (Plural only) Parents or members of the wider family: 'My folks won't let me go. What do your folks say?'

Notes: L is pronounced [w] before K in other words, too: milk and talk are two. When you specify a segment of the general population, you may use this word as either a mass or count noun: 'country folk' or 'country folks'. This word is almost slang; it is folksy itself. Folksy is the most often used adjective from today's word, though folkish is out there somewhere.

In Play: The first sense of this word is an informal, almost slang way of saying people: "Folks around here don't like such carryings-on." Since we had an example of folk referring to the parents in the Meaning, let's try one about the broader family: "My folks back home are happy without me and I'm happier without them!"

Word History: Today's Good Word seems to be an authentic (Germanic) English word, not a borrowing. We find it in several other Germanic languages, like Dutch volk, German Volk, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish folk. The going theory is that all these words derive from PIE plê-go- "abundance, multitude" based on pelê-/polê/plê- "to fill" + go-, a noun suffix. If so, this would relate it to Russian polnyi "full", German voll "full", and English "full"—all of which derive from the same root. Some etymologists for good reason have associated it with Latin vulgus "common people, hoi poloi", though the connection is hard to make. The [v] and [g] are voiced variants of [f] and [k], separated only by vibration of the vocal cords. This would suggest a borrowing from some Germanic tribe, say, the Franks, a perennial enemy of the Romans. Were the Romans to have borrowed the Frankish word for "people", it would probably be a pejorative term in Latin. (Let's now thank Tomasz Kowaltowski for suggesting today's fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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