Being a “California Girl” I spent a fair amount of time in the surfing community, raising my sun-bleached blonde surfer boys, when cowabunga, super swells, and hang ten,* peppered their chatter.
Of course, for most colloquial terms we can’t point to any one person, day, or event that gave it birth, so as a writer, I like to dream up a scenario … gnarly.
What, in the name of gnarly waves, could have instigated that surf exclamation? Welllllll, what about … close your eyes … and first envision a green flag of tree leaves waving in the wind, the tree’s limbs gently caressing puffy clouds in a soft blue sky …
Run your hand down its grainy brown trunk, feeling every chunk of bark that lay smoothly against its ringed inner core … bump! Oh … we hit a knur.
KNUR (nʉr) n. – a knot, as on the trunk or branch of a tree. [WW #61; 1 of 3]
KNURL (nʉrl) n. 1) a knot, knob, nodule, etc.; 2) any of a series of small beads or ridges, along the edge of a coin or on a dial; 3) (SCOT) a short, thickset person. [WW #61; 2 of 3]
KNURLY (- ē) adj. – full of knurls, as wood; gnarled. [WW #61; 3 of 3]
Aha! We stumbled on the word, gnarl. An apparent synonym for knurl. And what in heaven’s name were the Scots thinking when they slipped a woodland term over a body? I bolded the meanings in my mind … and then …
Leaning my head back and settling into my chair, a watery dreamland appeared in my little pea brain. Recalling a history I’d once written for a surf art gallery, I mused over oh, so long ago thoughts of the first surfboards, or papa he'e nalu, constructed in the Hawaiian Islands.
Molded from Wiliwili wood for royalty surfers, knurls would not be welcome in the smooth, carefully shaped Big Guns of ancient surfing.
Now come with me to Mother Nature’s salty seashore. Look! I point toward the curvy line of bronze-skinned surfers slip-slidin’ up and down the waves. Our eyes locked on a short, thickset dude with a striking wide smile. Ripping into the curl, he nimbly sliced through the barrel.*
After what seemed an eternity, the exhausted wave lowered him to sea level. He sent his sleek surfboard into a 180° kick out, paddling back toward the next frothy line.
Thinking that the intriguing surfer was like a glorious knurl in the bark of the ocean, my eyes were still closed when I yelled, “Gnarly, Dude!”
My eyes popped open just in time to escape the family dog’s frothy tongue, ready to give me a big, wet kiss. Dude happily wagged his tail.
And that, my friends, was a clandestine glimpse into the inner workings of a writer’s mind … from knur to gnarly … scary, huh?
Word of the Week: KNUR / KNURL / KNURLY. Can you fit the triplets into your next conversation?
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* Wanna talk like a surfer? Check out these fun surf terms.