Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Dangers of Slang: Hork, Horking Up

I've always used the phrase "horking up" as in these examples:

  • The cat horked up a hairball into the spaghetti *again*?
  • Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to a dog horking up undigested rawhide all over the carpet.
  • That wild driving trip in the mountains made me hork up my Wheaties.
To my surprise, in a FaceBook post, someone I know who lives on the opposite coast (2800 miles [4500 km] from here, FYI) used it like this:

  • Just horked up some cashew chicken, which I haven't had in ages, as a gift to myself. I wonder if this is why I can't seem to lose weight?

I was a little stunned; horking up--as in vomiting-- doesn't strike me as something that most people would do as a gift to themselves. Her second sentence, though, clued me in: She must have meant that she *ate* the chicken. Curiouser and curiouserNote1.

Hork does not appear in my Webster's, nor in my OED.

I went to my favorite online word-lookup site, Onelook.com, which searches through many online dictionaries. It provided me with a link to this page, which shows the following meanings:
  1. (slang) To foul up; to be broken.
  2. (slang, regional) To steal.
  3. (slang) To throw.
  4. (slang, offensive) To snort from the sinuses. (Similar to hocking.)
  5. (slang) To vomit.
  6. (slang) To gobble.
  7. (slang, transitive) To move; specifically in an egregious fashion
So, the same slang word has opposite meanings (#5 and #6)--as well as a host of others meanings to truly confuse the befuddled listener.

And that's the danger of slang: There is no "real" or "official" definition, and so it means whatever the user intends it to mean, which might change from person to person, neighborhood to neighborhood, state to state, or region to region.

So, I'm curious--do YOU use "hork," "horking," or "horking up"? What do YOU mean when you say it?

Note1 If you're not familiar with "curiouser and curiouser," see it in context here. But that's the beginning of chapter 2; start here to read the whole thing. Cultural literacy, you know, that's important, too.