1 of 2
1
Balky
Posted: 16 March 2011 09:05 AM   [ Ignore ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  803
Joined  2007-06-20

I thought I was pretty experienced in AmE, but I balked (pun intended) at this sentence I saw in a Reuters news report today:

Last year a balky latch meant astronauts had to stay aboard the space station an extra day in orbit.

It was pretty clear from the context what “balky” meant, and Merriam-Webster Online confirmed it: “refusing or likely to refuse to proceed, act, or function as directed or expected; a balky mule; a balky engine.” But I’ve never come across the adjective in BrE, or at least certainly not applied to inanimate objects, and indeed, the online OED only gives a definition relating to animals: “Given to balking (as a horse); reluctant to proceed; contrary, perverse.” I’ve just found one American who had never heard the usage: is it widely known in AmE? Do other BrE speakers, too, find this a new usage, for them, of “balky”?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 March 2011 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  315
Joined  2007-02-13

Offhand I’d say it’s common enough to be understood if not used by most Americans.  A quick Google search turns up lots of hits, including a headline in the New York Times on-line archives (but no article, at least not for free) from April 1963 that says “Joy Pottle is victor over a balky piano”.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 March 2011 11:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  429
Joined  2007-02-14

The word is new to me, but that doesn’t have to mean that much of course. I’m just wondering about the explanation that the OED gives: “Given to balking (as a horse)”.  In Dutch ‘balken’ is what a donkey does. The reputation that donkeys have would better fit the meaning of the word than that of horses. Isn’t that horse a bit out of place there?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 March 2011 11:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4461
Joined  2007-01-03

Given the baseball use of balk, the adjective balky shouldn’t be a mystery to Americans. In baseball, a balk is when a pitcher begins his forward motion, then interrupts the pitch.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 March 2011 12:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2738
Joined  2007-01-31

Of the three OED citations referring to animals, two refer to horses and one to a mule, so I don’t think you can fault them too much.  “(A)s a horse” is an illustration, not a limitation.

I wouldn’t blink an eye at “balky latch”, BTW.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 March 2011 12:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1363
Joined  2007-01-29

Never heard it in my corner of the UK.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 March 2011 12:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  101
Joined  2007-06-14

In my corner–extreme northeast–of the U.S., it’s most frequently used for recalcitrant animals, but sometimes for a mechanical device that is not cooperating.

I found a few U.K. sites that use it in that way…

#
Re: “Wave a dead chicken over it.”
Aug 5, 2005 ... I have frequently heard this phrase used when someone is attempting to fix a
balky mechanical or electronic device - especially a computer. ...
http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/42/…

Fiat Barchetta | Used Car Tests | Car Reviews | Auto Express
A balky gearchange and clutch judder are signs that a car has had a hard life
and so is best avoided. Glass’s View The Barchetta’s rarity makes it difficult
...
http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/carreviews/used…

When I asked a family member, a U.K. native from the East Midlands, if this usage was one she knew, she replied that she had never heard or seen it.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 March 2011 01:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3331
Joined  2007-01-29

Seems perfectly natural to this American.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 March 2011 02:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2879
Joined  2007-02-26

In Australia we tend to spell the verb “baulk”. Not familiar with “baulky” or “balky” but I could guess what it meant.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 March 2011 12:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  769
Joined  2007-03-01

In Dutch ‘balken’ is what a donkey does. The reputation that donkeys have would better fit the meaning of the word than that of horses. Isn’t that horse a bit out of place there?

Dutchtoo, is it fair to infer that you aren’t a rider? I used to be, and I can promise you that horses can and do balk. All horses balk occasionally at something they dislike or that worries them, but some can be confidently relied on to do it at every gate, gap in a hedge, fork in the path or odd-shaped bush.

It would come natural to me to say that a horse was balky, but I’ve never heard it used of inanimate objects. That strikes me as odd, because balking in a horse isn’t purely a refusal to move but a retrograde action - it jibs away from the thing it dislikes. But then I suppose people who don’t have physical experience of a balking animal don’t register that.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 March 2011 03:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1128
Joined  2007-02-14

The idea of attributing balkiness to inanimate objects is perfectly compatible with the concept of Resistentialism.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 March 2011 04:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2879
Joined  2007-02-26

"Seems perfectly natural to this American. “

So the word and you aren’t Perfect Strangers.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 March 2011 04:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3331
Joined  2007-01-29

Sorry, I have no idea what you’re getting at.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 March 2011 08:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2879
Joined  2007-02-26

Sorry ... there was an American TV show of that name with a character called Balki ... I really am sorry…

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 March 2011 09:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  315
Joined  2007-02-13

So is anyone who ever watched that show.  “Balki” is pronounced with a short ‘a’ whereas “balky” rhymes with “chalky”, you know.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 March 2011 05:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2879
Joined  2007-02-26

Well okay, though I think he was from the Balkans, which rhymes with falcons, except for people who pronounce falcons the other way.

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 2
1
 
‹‹ Proscribing Prescriptivism      BL: bible ››