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Croquet, anyone?

The things you can find while rummaging around in the Oxford English Dictionary.

After I wrote yesterday about the disagreeable characteristics some prescriptivists display, the word crotchety came to mind in describing their attitude, and I wondered about the origin of crotchet.

It appears to come from the French, croc or croche, for a crook, a shepherd’s crook or a hockey stick. From there, the word took off.

A crotchet can also be pattern of ornamental buds in Gothic architecture or the buds on a stag’s horn, but the prevailing sense appears to be of a hooked instrument — the crochet needle, for example. More figuratively, a crotchet can also be a musical note with a tail.

The hockey stick/shepherd’s crook sense allies the word to crosier, a bishop’s staff in the form of a shepherd’s crook, and to croquet, because of the mallets with which the game is played.

But crotchet, as the root of crotchety is more complex. The figurative sense, the OED says, is “A whimsical fancy; a perverse conceit; a peculiar notion on some point (usually considered unimportant) held by an individual in opposition to common opinion,” adding: “The original of this sense is obscure: it is nearly synonymous with CRANK n2, Senses 3 and 4, and might, like it, have the radical notion of ‘mental twist or crook’; but Cotgrave appears to connect it with the musical note, sense 7: ‘Crochue, a Quauer in Musicke; whence Il a des crochues en teste, (we say) his head is full of crochets.’”

Whimsical fancy. Perverse conceit. Peculiar notion on some unimportant point in opposition to common opinion. Yes, we’ve seen that.

So crotchety equals twisted, a good enough etymology for our purposes.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:46 AM | | Comments (3)


The musical note is spelt crotchet, although it is derived from crochet.

Just so. Fixed.

Speaking of origins of words, it blew me away when I learned recently that the English word "happy" or "happiness" has its roots in the Greek for "chance."

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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