Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Word Choice Wednesday: Balk


Merriam-Webster says:
to stop short and refuse to proceed : to refuse abruptly —used with at : to commit a balk in sports

I thought this was a five cent word, but when I used it in my 250-word blogfest post a number of people said that it didn't fit. Made them stumble. So maybe it's a ten cent word? I don't know, now.  It's not a common word, I'll admit, but I didn't think it was that strange or formal. 

More specific than:
Stop, resist or refuse. IMO, this word implies to a physical refusal and physical resistance: horses balk. When I try to put my cat in his carrier to go to the vet, he balks. I always see feet firmly planted and back arched away to shift the center of gravity, when I hear the word balk.

Word relationships:

Refuse, in the sense used when referring to animals is close -- the horse refused the bit. Maybe because animals can only act. There are several words such as foil, thwart, and baffle which involve failure, but they all strike me as being primarily mental or psychological in their action. Baffle especially -- wouldn't think of being physically baffled by something. Unless it's a baffle, which can be any number of regulatory devices.

Balking can involve struggling, fighting, twisting or thrashing, but all those words have multiple functions and aren't synonyms. Actually, I've been having trouble thinking of synonyms that encompass the brick-like (but with claws) resistance you get from a cat who doesn't want to go to the vet.

What comes to your mind?


mooderino said...

Black chalk for writing secret messages on blackboards.

Moody Writing

Anonymous said...

I love the word "balk" but maybe that's because I grew up loving horses. I learned to ride (late) so I have a physical feel for their movement as well. As you described with your cat, there is a particular purely physical sensation of refusal when your horse simply does not want to do something -- annoying, when he won't move, or terrifying, when he refuses a jump.

I have never visited your blog before and I love the idea of a weekly word discussion. There are so many times we choose the easy, familiar word when a more subtle choice would do. I will attempt to subscribe but as you may have seen on Twitter, Blogger hates me for some reason and I can't seem to follow any Blogger blogs.

I love your writing progress graph -- way to keep yourself accountable!

Nice getting to know you! :)

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