Saturday, 15 September 2007

I feel Punk...

What does ’Punk’ mean? I thought it was a modern word relating only to a form of rock music until I came across a diary entry for September 15th 1919 in which the diarist, a young American girl, wrote “Monday September 15, 1919 - I didn't dress until 5:00 P.M. and felt pretty punk. “ Another entry of Louise Hancock’s from 1916 read “Ha! Ha! It was awful cold and damp. The show was punk, but we had a good time. “
I looked up punk and found =
Punk rock, an anti-establishment rock music genre
Punk subculture, a subculture associated with punk rock
Punk fashion, clothing styles associated with the punk subculture
Punk ideologies, a group of social and political beliefs associated with the punk subculture
Punk visual art, artwork associated with the punk subculture
Punk (magazine), a 1970s United States punk fanzine
Punk (fireworks), a utensil for lighting fireworks
Punk, one of the Mega Man Killers, robots in the Mega Man Classic video game series
Punk, a street term for a petty criminal or a male prostitute

Eventually I found a reference to it being an informal North American word for "Bad; worthless; a worthless person; a thug; or a criminal."
You live and learn..…


  1. Just found your reference to the word 'punk'. Thought you might find it interesting that my aunt always used that word when she wasn't feeling well, but couldn't really put a name to her condition. She was born in 1916, so the time fits. She was born & raised in NH. I still use the word when I'm 'down' and somehow it seems to fit. Found your ramblings interesting. Nancy

  2. Hello--my father also uses that word, and he was born in the 1940s and lived on the Eastern Seaboard--but his parents were of the generation you mention. I'm too lazy to look it up in the OED (which doesn't have all Americanisms). If you don't know the Dictionary of American Regional English, it's pretty wonderful.

    -- Rebecca

  3. I just used that word in an email to a younger person, saying that "I will cancel if I feel punk in the morning", then it occurred to me she might not understand what I was talking about. I looked it up and found you! My mom certainly used the word that way, she is 89, born in 1922, and I have little doubt that my grandmother, born in Kansas in 1888 would have used it. Language carries so much history!

  4. My mother, Born 1925, used the word "punk" to describe not feeling well. My grandmothers (b. 1891 and 1896) used the term as well. My mother also used to the term "snot nosed punk" when she didn't like a younger male who she considered either a "hood" or one with a smart mouth. She often used the term to describe my ex-husband! LOL!

  5. Thanks for those comments - most enlightening. Perhaps this is one I should have had on my word blog!

  6. My mother, born 1927 in NH, always used "feeling kind of punk" as an equivalent to feeling generally lousy (from a cold or similar).

  7. Found this in "Edwardian Slang" punk – Inferior, as in “played a punk game”, “feeling punk” (ill) (1896) - cool.

  8. Mom, b. 1921, Boston, used 'punk' as in, 'not too well.' I always considered punk as a thug. DK.

    I just used it in conversation in TX and was called on it.

    1. I came across my late grandmother's diary from the early fiftirs.She too used the term a lot to describe feeling unwell. Bless her heart,she had 9 children in the 19th and worked way too hard.She died at 64 years old😢

  9. in context from "Babbitt" by Sinclair Lewis - 'With the subtleties of dressing ran other complex worries. “I feel kind
    of punk this morning,” he said. “I think I had too much dinner last
    evening. You oughtn’t to serve those heavy banana fritters.”'


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