Printable Version
Pronunciation: swahsh Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, Noun

Meaning: 1. To splash, slosh or wash over noisily and rhythmically, as a large wave might swash against the shore. There is an implication of gracefulness and power that comes with this word, too. 2. To swagger, bluster. 3. (Noun) A ripple, one of the moving ridges that play across the surface of liquid when disturbed.

Notes: Today's word is used most frequently in the compounds swashbuckler and swashbuckling, which brings to mind pirates and Errol Flynn films. Modern movies that romanticize pirates have lent their romance to these compounds, hence the connotation of grace and agility. Swash can also refer to someone who swaggers or comports himself with braggadocio.

In Play: Mark Twain wrote in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, "The gusts of wind were flaring the torches and making the shadows swash about." But you, too, may use this word when you mean a sudden, powerful move that might produce a noise from the friction: "Manley suddenly swashed his arm through the air and a cab dropped out of nowhere and stopped at the curb."

Word History: You might want to know where the buckle came from in the compounds swashbuckling and swashbuckler. Swashbuckle was originally "someone who swings a sword at someone's shield", from swash + buckler "a small shield". Swash is an onomatopoeic formation, like swish, thud, crack, tinkle and hiss. Some are better than others. Cock-a-doodle-do is an onomatopoeic term for the sound of a rooster's crowing that falls considerably short of the mark. Buckler comes from Old French bouclier, from boucle "boss on a shield". Old French inherited this word from Latin buccula, diminutive of bucca "cheek".

Dr. Goodword,

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