The word 'awkward' is itself extremely awkward to both spell and speak. It contains the oddest formation of letters in the English language: 'wkw.' I can't pronounce that alone without hurting my jaw.

In Middle English it started out mercifully as 'awkeward,' a mix of two syllables. 'awke' comes from old Norse word for 'wrong,' and ward means 'to have the manner of' or 'in the direction of.' So awkward takes the place of saying 'having a wrong manner.' But it doesn't quite roll off the tongue as well, as it tends to cause the tongue to cramp up when saying it. Go on, say the word three times in succession.

So like everything else, the awkward spelling of the word awkward can be blamed on the English, probably English lawyers too. And despite the fact that it is spelled as one word, it can't be pronounced in any way but as two words.

Awk"ward (?), a. [Awk + -ward.]

1.

Wanting dexterity in the use of the hands, or of instruments; not dexterous; without skill; clumsy; wanting ease, grace, or effectiveness in movement; ungraceful; as, he was awkward at a trick; an awkward boy.

And dropped an awkward courtesy. Dryden.

2.

Not easily managed or effected; embarrassing.

A long and awkward process. Macaulay.

An awkward affair is one that has gone wrong, and is difficult to adjust. C. J. Smith.

3.

Perverse; adverse; untoward.

[Obs.] "Awkward casualties." "Awkward wind."

Shak.

O blind guides, which being of an awkward religion, do strain out a gnat, and swallow up a cancel. Udall.

Syn. -- Ungainly; unhandy; clownish; lubberly; gawky; maladroit; bungling; inelegant; ungraceful; unbecoming. -- Awkward, Clumsy, Uncouth. Awkward has a special reference to outward deportment. A man is clumsy in his whole person, he is awkward in his gait and the movement of his limbs. Clumsiness is seen at the first view. Awkwardness is discovered only when a person begins to move. Hence the expressions, a clumsy appearance, and an awkward manner. When we speak figuratively of an awkward excuse, we think of a want of ease and grace in making it; when we speak of a clumsy excuse, we think of the whole thing as coarse and stupid. We apply the term uncouth most frequently to that which results from the want of instruction or training; as, uncouth manners; uncouth language.

-- Awk"ward*ly (), adv. -- Awk"ward*ness, n.

 

© Webster 1913.

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