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Definitian: Maggot

Pronounciation: Say it like you see it. Mawk (rhymes with Hawk).

Origin: A practically obsolete word, it comes from Late Middle English.

Why this word?

The word ‘Mawkish’ is still a relatively commonly used word. It means something that is sickly sweet (I’m thinking of you, papaya, with your sickly sweet taste!). Thus, it is something that would have attracted flies and maggots – or mawks. It then became used to mean something that was so sickly sweet that it was overly-sentimental. Think of that person you know who has an unusually rose-coloured view of their wedding day…

But what makes the relationship between ‘Mawk’ and ‘Mawkish’ so unusual in the English language is that we’ve kept the word ‘Mawkish‘, meaning ‘Mawk-Like‘ and abandoned the word ‘Mawk‘. It would be the same as coining the phrase ‘Dorito-Like’ and dropping the word ‘Dorito’ from the language altogether. There are not too many words in the English language that share this unusual relationship.

How to use this word in a sentence? 

It is obsolete – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used from time to time. If you try to use it, though, do it indirectly. Don’t say: “Man – that meat you left out last week is covered in mawks”. There is no way that is going to work. But you might use it in the following sentence: “Man – that cheap hotel I stayed at? It was the most flea-bitten, mawk-ridden, smell-infested tear-down that I’ve ever seen”. I think it’s time to resurrect Mawk –  but let it take it’s first few steps in the company of other similar words – with kindness and care, this is one maggot we can all welcome back into our lives.


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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