A Word With Many Meanings

Today, instead of sharing 2-3 words with you, I’m going to share one word that has 4 widely disparate meanings. Wait a minute, now that the word disparate flowed from my fingers as I was typing, I think I’ll provide that definition, too! First, disparate, so that you will then be able to understand what I mean about the other word.

Disparate (di-spar-it) is an adjective that means distinct in kind, essentially different, not at all similar. If two people had disparate ideas about how to handle a situation, they would have distinctly different ideas about what to do. For example, parents sometimes have different ideas about disciplining their children. One parent may favor spanking a child for a wrong doing. The other parent may favor talking to the child in an effort to explain why the child’s behavior was inappropriate.

Since I’ve said the word that I want to share today has disparate meanings, that indicates that the word has meanings that are very different from each other. With that said, I’ll get on with sharing the word. And that word is malkin.

Malkin (mawl-kin) is a noun. The first meaning is an untidy woman. Sometimes in the past, it has referred to a lower class kitchen maid. (That’s how Chaucer used the word!) So, if a woman is not clean, if she has sloppy, dirty clothes on, and if her hair is in disarray, she is a malkin.

The second meaning is a scarecrow, a ragged puppet, or a grotesque effigy. You can probably see how people could call a scarecrow a malkin. If a woman is a sloppy, unkempt person with a rowdy hair-do, she might look like a scarecrow or a raggedy puppet.

The third definition is a mop. Now, you might ask, how does this fit in. If the mop was made from a bundle of rags, it might look like a scarecrow which in turn might look like an untidy woman. Several hundred years ago in England, these mops were made to clean ovens or artillery pieces and were referred to as malkins. This definition isn’t commonly used today.

The third definition is a cat. Since 1673, malkin has been used as a name for a cat and thus used to refer to cats in general. However, this was normal back in the 1600s and so this definition isn’t common either.

The fourth definition is a hare. In the 1700s, England and Scotland referred to hares as a malkin. Having never been to England or Scotland, I don’t know if they still refer to rabbits as a malkin. (If any of my readers are from these parts of the world, it would be great if you could let me know if this definition is still in use!)

So, if you have a pet rabbit, you can call it a malkin. If you have a pet cat, you can call that a malkin. If you have a scarecrow at Halloween time, you can call that a malkin. If you clean out your oven with a rag mop, call it a malkin. If you’ve been backpacking for a week without showering, washing your hair, or changing your clothes, you might look disheveled and untiddy — and could refer to yourself as a malkin!

Malkin . . . an untidy woman, a scarecrow, a cat, a hare . . .


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