Printable Version
Pronunciation: mêrk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: Darkness, gloom, or dimness making it difficult to see, such as fogginess.

Notes: The adjective for today's word, murky, is much more often heard than the noun it is derived from. Its use as a verb meaning "to darken" is even rarer. The reason for the rarity of murk in contemporary conversations is probably because it has been replaced by murkiness, the noun from murky.

In Play: Murkiness is usually associated with dimness or fog: "The beam from Haskell's flashlight sliced uneasily through the murk of the encroaching fog." However, this word is not limited to atmosphere: "The clear stream that Haskell had fished in his youth was now clouded by murk from the paper plant."

Word History: This word is of pure Germanic origins. In Old English it was mirce "murky, dark", a cousin in Old Norwegian (Viking) myrir "darkness". We find the remains of the Old Norwegian word in Modern Danish and Norwegian mørk "dark", Swedish mörk "dark". These words are direct descendants of PIE mer-/mor- "to shimmer, flicker", source also of English morn(ing), German Morgen "morning". The Slavic languages metathesized the PIE word to create mrak, which means "darkness, dimness" in both Russian and Serbo-Croatian and "cloud" in Czech and Slovak. The Baltic languages didn't metathesize it, so we find mirgėti "to flicker" in Lithuanian and mirdzēt "to shimmer" in Latvian. (Annette McMullen, who has been with us for a decade, wondered in an e-mail if there was a noun murk lurking beneath murky, so I made today's Good Word out of her suggestion.)

Dr. Goodword,

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