Printable Version
Pronunciation: kêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A mongrel, a mutt, an ill-bred or mixed-breed dog. 2. A deprecative name for a disagreeable, dirty, ill-tempered, or sickly dog. 3. A despicable person with no breeding.

Notes: Although today's word is a lexical orphan, it may be used as an adjective in such words as cur-dog, cur-fox and cur-tyke. It has a wide-ranging family with a multitude of meanings (see Word History).

In Play: Curs are dogs that are nasty in some way: "The mutt next door learned how far our pedigreed pup can make cur fur fly the hard way." Given the meaning of cur we might expect that it would be used to refer to people we don't like: "That two-legged cur ran off with another man's wife!"

Word History: The [k] sound is identical with [g] except the vocal cords don't vibrate. There are many, many words among the Indo-European languages based on [g_r] or [gr_] referring to sounds like ill-tempered dogs make, like growl. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary lists grr(r) "to growl" as a verb. It is used in books to represent the sound of dogs growling. English gurgle, gargle and grumble represent similar sounds. All these words come from PIE gher-/ghor-"gurgle, babble", an imitative verb, which turns up in Sanskrit ghurghurah "gurgling sound", Slovene grgati "to gargle", Albanian grykë "throat", Serbian grlo "throat", Swedish kurra "to rumble", and Russian gorlo "throat". (Now a double bow to Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira, an editor of this series and long-standing contributor of Good Words as catchy as today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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