Just woke up thinking of this word for some reason. I think I was thinking of using the phrase "arms akimbo" in a sentence. Then I realized that I didn't really know if I had it right or not. At the present time, I think it means with arms or legs crossed and folded. But I think when I used to read it, I thought it meant "strewn about all over the place". Maybe it means neither.
Where does it come from? It sounds like it could be African, but maybe that's because it has a sound association to the unfortunate Little Black Sambo. Or maybe it's one of those words from India that migrated with returning soldiers. Well, with my luck at guessing such things, it is probably Old English. Let's see...
Darn. How can I be so right about being so wrong? It is in fact, Middle English--kenebowe kene- (origin unknown--hate when that happens!) +bowe which is "bow" or "bend". Like elbow. And in fact elbows have a lot to do with it, because akimbo is really about the elbows pointing out to the side with hands on hips. Yeah, yeah--I got that wrong too.
If you must choose to read on, I will pose a quiet note of contradiction, though. Liberman says:
"A third putative source of akimbo is Gaelic cam “bent, crooked”; the English adverb kim-kam “all awry, all askew” has been attested...The suggestion that just one component of akimbo is Celtic has little to recommend it."
Well, maybe. I find it interesting, though, that I had some underlying sense of the 'all awry, all askew' meaning, even if it did not pan out. Does that come from my Irish roots? Or, more probably, has this shadowy secondary meaning haunted the word all along?
Mr. Liberman, I hope that some day, these questions will be answered.
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