Spunk
Posted: 05 May 2007 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]
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spunk is a word I have always assumed to mean ...spirt or courage,but I have been reading about the 100th anniversary of JIM LARKIN the socialist labour leader, and the dock workers strike and in it it refers to spunk being a slang term for Methylated Spirit. This term was apparently used in Dublin

Anyone have ideas...not on its use :-) but meaning ?

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Posted: 05 May 2007 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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That sounds like a regional slang usage to me. I’ve never heard it used that way. The “spirit/courage” sense started back in the late 18th century, according to Chambers Dictionary of Etymology. Before that, it meant ‘pith, tinder, sponge’, Celtic borrowed from Latin ‘spongia’ SPONGE.

The only other meaning I’ve heard used is sexually related. It started back in the ‘60s, meaning sexually active (Australia), according to Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang. The verb form meant to ejaculate. That doesn’t cover the exact meaning as I heard it back in the late ‘60s, “spunk in the bunk”.

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Posted: 05 May 2007 02:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’ve never heard of this meaning, Michael.  It is evidently a Dublinism of a certain time

From Larkin’s memoirs of his work National Union of Dock Labourers in the Irish Worker (22nd November 1924)

These were the first human beings that I had ever seen drinking methylated spirits or, as it is called in Dublin “Spunk” ,

From this site.

Welcome!  Great question.  Momac, who is a native of Ireland, might have heard of it. I also love Jim Larkin’s story.

[ Edited: 05 May 2007 02:48 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 05 May 2007 03:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I haven’t been able to get in to OED all evening but I know that the sexual sense of spunk predates the 60s. It was certainly in use in the UK in the 1950s (we sniggered over it as schoolboys in 1958/9).

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Posted: 05 May 2007 04:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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That would predate Cassel’s Australian reference. You UK’ers have all the fun. ;)

FYI, the queen looked as though she was enjoying the Kentucky Derby today. She even smiled. :)

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Posted: 05 May 2007 05:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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aldiboronti - 05 May 2007 03:34 PM

I haven’t been able to get in to OED all evening but I know that the sexual sense of spunk predates the 60s.

Etymonline has the seminal fluid vulgarity to 1888. As usual for that site, there is no citation.  But my OED1 has no such slang, but then, they were a civilized sort.

[ Edited: 05 May 2007 07:19 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 05 May 2007 07:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I checked my Old OED paper edition (four pages per page!) and it has a “Spunkie” “Spunkey” “Spunky” with the meaning of Whiskey or another liquor drink.  Scottish and cited from a R. Burns poem with the name of “kennedy” in the title (it’s all downstairs and so clumsy to look at and type from).

Oh, maybe here:

It’s no I like to sit an’ swallow,
Then like a swine to puke an’ wallow;
But gie me just a true good fallow,
Wi’ right ingine, [ingenuity]
And spunkie ance [once] to mak us mellow,
An’ then we’ll shine.

In the glossary at that site one finds

Spunkie:  full of spirit
Spunkie:  liquor:  spirits

Easy enough to understand the transference of meaning.

[ Edited: 05 May 2007 07:23 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 05 May 2007 08:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Great find.

All I could find relating to the Irish connection was here, an extract from Tales of the Irish Peasantry by William Carleton, Dublin 1854.
(Mother offering her baby son whiskey)

Corny, let me dip my finger in the whiskey til I rub his gums wid it.  That’s my bully!  Oh, the heavens love it - see how it puts the little mouth about lookin’ for it agin.  Throth you’ll have the spunk in you yet, acushla

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Posted: 05 May 2007 09:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Finally got through to OED. Here’s the first cite for the sexual sense.

c1888-94 My Secret Life I. 87 It seemed to me scarcely possible, that the sweet, well dressed, smooth-spoken ladies..could let men put the spunk up their cunts.

And this must be the different Australian sense in Cassel’s Slang to which Eyehawk made reference:

[5.] d. Austral. slang. A sexually attractive person; freq. as young spunk.

1978 J. ROWE Warlords 205, I can always round up a boatload of horny looking young spunks, but there’s no guarantees for old gits like us from the amateurs.

Etymologically, OED states that it is obscure but “probably related to funk”. Surprising at first, but comparing the first definitions for both words one begins to see the light.

Spunk, n 1. Sc. and dial. A spark, in various senses.
Chiefly in fig. use: cf. SPARK n.1 1d and 2.

Funk, n 1. A spark.

[ Edited: 05 May 2007 09:22 PM by aldiboronti ]
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