• quicksand •
kwik-sænd • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. A bed of dense, sticky sand or mud that clings to objects that fall into it, making escape difficult. 2. A situation like quicksand, in which attempts to escape only make matters worse.
Notes: Do you remember watching movies in which people very, very s l o w l y sank into quicksand and wondering, "Why is it called QUICKsand?" Today's etymology will explain this ostensible oxymoron. Here are a couple of interesting facts about it. Quicksand is seldom more than two or three feet deep. The quicksand itself does not kill people unless they are alone and starve to death while stuck in it. You sink in quicksand only if you struggle; if you do not struggle, you will float on top of it.
In Play: The fact that quicksand pulls a body down only if it struggles led to the metaphorical sense of today's word: "The contract negotiations turned into quicksand: the more we talked, the worse our position became." Josiah Woodward was still laboring under the misconception that quicksand is deep enough to kill, when he wrote in 1697, "Self-conceit. . .is a quicksand in which thousands have been swallowed up."
Word History: Today's word comes from Middle English quyksond "living sand" with quick in its original sense of "alive", as in the Sharon Stone-Russell Crowe movie, 'The Quick and the Dead'. It comes from a suffixed form Old English cwicu "alive", which, in turn, derived from the Proto-Indo-European root gwiwo- "life, live", which also converted to Sanskrit jivá, Latin vivus, Lithuanian gývas, Russian zhiv, and, believe it or not, Greek bios, all meaning "life". The noun quick, in the sense of "sensitive flesh or tissue", as in 'to cut something to the quick', derives from the original meaning of the adjective.