This blog has been around eleven years, so I missed my chance to choose a Person of the Decade, but if I did it would be New York Times book critic Dwight Garner. He has been featured eight times, most recently here; put his name in the search field at right to see the rest. His ninth appearance comes via Nancy Friedman, who reports this sentence in his review yesterday of a collection of speeches and essays by Margaret Atwood: “there is some smart material and pawky wit in Burning Questions, even if they huddle, trembling, like ferns behind a waterfall.” (Besides NOOBs, Garner is a dab hand at similes.)
I confess I was unfamiliar with “pawky.” The OED says it originated in Scotland, Ireland and the North of England, and provides as definition an impressive list of adjectives: “Artful, sly, shrewd; arch, roguish; jaunty. Now usually: having or showing a sardonic sense of humour; wry, quirky, subtle.” There’s also a secondary definition: “Haughty, proud; insolent, impertinent.”
There seems to have been yet another meaning for the word — either taciturnity or cheapness, judging by the context clues in this item the Times picked up from the London Globe and printed in 1904:
Ngram Viewer shows the word reaching its peak in Britain in about 1895 and declining steadily since then; at this point, it presumably comes off as archaic. And it never really caught on in America. Indeed, the Times is a font of NOOBs, but its most recent use before Garner’s came in a 2012 review of a memoir by British author Candia McWilliam:
“American readers of What to Look For in Winter may experience the uncomfortable feeling of having been forced to swallow a dictionary of Scottish and British colloquialisms — ‘shoogling,’ ‘bodging,’ ‘couthie,’ ‘pawky,’ ‘kenspeckle.’”
All right, consider the gauntlet thrown. If Dwight Garner can manage to work “kenspeckle” or “shoogling” into a review, I will dub him the man of the century.