I can't speak to the accuracy of the skater slang in Skate
, but the word gnarly
proved to be even more interesting than I suspected. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary
, the word gnarled
initially appeared only in Shakespeare
("Merciful heaven! / Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt / Split'st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak / Than the soft myrtle"), likely as a variant spelling of the earlier knarled
Which is not quite obsolete
nowadays. Editors could conceivably find themselves replacing an intentional use of the original spelling with what was once a non-standard spelling variant. Following common usage here is the obvious choice — too many people would think knarled
was an error, not that language is a democracy oh-no — but if you care about "correctness" you should feel a bit conflicted. Along similar lines, I used to wonder what I would do if someone wrote curry Fauvel
instead of curry favor
(Obviously: remove the reference to an obscure poem from 1310. I'm here to represent the readers, after all.)
meant something like "knotty or misshapen."
So Shakespeare's gnarled
goes unnoticed until the 19th century, when the poets of the day bring it back into currency. It's around that same time that people start using the backformation gnarl
, meaning either "a protruding knot on a tree" or "to contort, twist."
A decade or so later they then make a new
, out of that word. So gnarly
goes back way back to 1829.
In the 1970s, surfers started using gnarly
to describe dangerous waves (presumably they were quite twisty?), and by the 1980s it had been adopted into teen slang as a word for both "excellent" and "disgusting."
It's the "excellent" sense that seems to have won out
. Although my guess is that, with the possible exception of some speakers on the West Coast, gnarly
is used by most people today with at least a twist of irony.
(Bonus videogame tie-in: in Super Mario World
, each level in the secret Special Zone took its name from surfer slang
. In order: Gnarly, Tubular, Way Cool, Awesome, Groovy, Mondo, Outrageous, and Funky. It felt like I spent weeks
trying to beat Tubular.)
Labels: dialect, etymology, vocab