Wednesday, November 23, 2011


TileHead’s Word of the Day for 23 November 2011

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KIRN  (v. -ED, -ING, -S)

  1. (v.) to churn: to stir or agitate in a vessel, as in making butter
  2. (n.) a butter churn
  3. (n.) a harvest celebration; a feast or party celebrating a successful harvest
  4. (n.) the harvesting of the last handful of corn or grain

Useful information for game players:
  • Front hooks: (none)
  • Back hooks: -S
  • Anagrams: RINK
  • Longer extensions: kirnED, kirnING
  • Wraparounds: (none)
  • Other Spellings: (none)
  • Related Forms: (none)

Harvest celebrations have ancient roots and underlie many religious and mythological practices, and in many cultures the harvesting of the last sheaf of corn was an occasion of special significance.  For example, in Sir James George Frazer’s seminal book The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion he recounts many legends involving “corn mothers” and “corn maidens,” as well as the “kirn baby” ritual:
In some parts of Scotland, as well as in the north of England, the last handful of corn cut on the harvest-field was called the kirn, and the person who carried it off was said to ‘win the kirn.’  It was then dressed up like a child’s doll and went by the name of the kirn-baby, the kirn-doll, or the Maiden.
~ from the chapter on “The Corn-Mother and the Corn-Maiden in Northern Europe”
Sometimes the person who had the honor of cutting the last sheaf was said to “cry the kirn” or “shout the kirn” to acknowledge the event.  Afterwards, a “kirn supper” would be held to celebrate the successful harvest, and the “kirn baby” would be preserved until the following year.  The word MELL was also used in an almost identical manner: to refer to “the last sheaf of corn at harvest time,” as well as to “mell dolls,” “mell suppers,” and the like.

The ultimate derivation of the word KIRN is not known, though it is probably related either to the word CHURN (because, the OED notes, “a churnful of cream was a prominent item in the harvest-supper”) or to the word CORN, with which it was closely associated, as in the Frazer tale above.

Enjoy the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday — an observance that is also rooted in the celebration of a successful harvest.  May you STODGE yourself silly, break the MERRYTHOUGHT, and shout the KIRN to your heart’s delight!

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