The obscure word of the week is stonk

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The first obscure word for 2018 is stonk, which is totally different in origin and meaning from the word stonkered. Even though it sounds like it shouldn’t be.

‘Stonk’ is a 1920s British military term for a sharp and fast artillery bombardment, according to the OED possibly derived from the term ‘Standard regimental concentration’. It was used a lot in the Second World War, including by the New Zealand forces in North Africa and Italy.

But it didn’t mean the same as ‘stonkered’, which sounds like a derived word describing what happens to the target of a ‘stonk’, but actually isn’t. According to the OED it’s unique to New Zealand and Australian slang of the early-mid twentieth century, and means variously exhausted or drunk. Apparently it’s derived from northern English terms of a game of marbles.

Personally I have my suspicions about the relationship between the artillery technique and ‘stonkered’, because a very large proportion of New Zealand’s young men served in the army during the Second World War – over 70,000 out of a total population of 1.6 million. While both meanings of the word pre-date the war, the connection may well have gained social credence during the conflict among the Kiwi troops just through the similarity of syllables. It wouldn’t surprise me. Language is like that.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018


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