One letter makes all the difference

In my last post, I talked about the word “merkin,” which is a wig for the pubic area. I came across the word in a Facebook post by a teenage acquaintance of mine, which read, “Paintball today. Merkin emm.”

While I was fascinated to learn about “merkin” and all the other related words I stumbled on when writing the post, I was pretty sure that he wasn’t referring in this instance to a yoni rug. I consulted, which is my go-to resource any time a young person says something I don’t understand. No luck. So I asked him!

Turns out that he had a typo—”merckin,” a common term in rap, is what he meant to say. He also referred me back to Urban Dictionary. I guess even the kids have to look things up to keep up with the slang!

UD tells me that “merck” means kill, murder, destroy, embarrass, ect. (sic), and is derived from “mercenary.”

Because I don’t typically think of UD as the utmost in etymological authority, I decided I should really check that out a little further. And indeed, it is so.

Neither the OED nor Online Etymological Dictionary contains a matching entry for “merck.” So, I went to Google to see what I could find. My research was made somewhat difficult by the fact that the company name Merck so commonly appears in the context of the mercenary pharmaceutical industry. Even with those hits aside, I found enough instances to confirm the connection. My favorite was on a Barney Miller “favorite quotes” discussion thread¹ from ten years ago. It reads in part, “Harris was taking a statement from a mercenary and the mercenary asks him if he’s ever considered doing ‘merck-work’ in Africa.” (Harris responds dryly, “I can’t wear khaki.”) There is also a book called “MERCS: True Stories of Mercenaries in Action.”

The thing I found most interesting about this little word journey was not just that one dropped letter can so radically affect the meaning, thought that’s true. I am most amazed by the gigantic corpus of text that the Internet provides us, and which made possible my little foray into merkindom/merckindom. The online universe consists of trillions of words used in every possible level of discourse, from highly intellectual political and scientific writings, to the slangiest everyday expressions. Linguists used to have to put in thousands of hours just to create a corpus large enough to perform meaningful analyses on. Written texts were hand-keyed up until the time that word-processed documents became available for direct loading into a database. And the sort of variety seen on the web would have been practically impossible to duplicate. Now, I can sit at my desk and search in a second or two almost more documents than I can imagine.

But I still don’t get what “emm” means.


¹ Dead link as of April 2014

About Verla

Wordfreak. Retired private investigator and Spanish court interpreter. Erstwhile librarian. Texan by birth, cheesehead by upbringing, latina by soul, in New Mexico by choice. Lover of things purple. Passionate participant in the Librivox audiobook recording project. We record books that are in the public domain in the U.S. The recordings are then placed in the public domain themselves.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to One letter makes all the difference