Words I Love: crooked

crooked – adjective

  1. bent, curved, twisted out of shape.
  2. dishonest, illegal

Origins: From the Middle English ‘crook’ (noun a hooked staff belonging to a shepherd or verb to bend), or possibly from the Old Norse krókóttr, which means something along the lines of ‘cunning’.

I’ve mentioned ‘crooked’ a lot in my Words I Love posts and thought I would go with my past-self and make ‘crooked’ my next word. A lot of my associations with this particular word probably come from the crooked man nursery rhyme.

There was a crooked man,
and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence
upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat,
which caught a crooked mouse,
and they all lived together
in a little crooked house.

I heard and read it so much as a child that it’s gotten itself stuck in my brain and may never leave. It’s been the starting point for horror films and antagonists in games, and books (I am looking at you, The Book of Lost Things, which is a book everyone should read especially if they love fairy tales) for years, and I completely understand why.

It’s such a wonderful (if creepy) image, a crooked man.

Weirdly, my imaginings don’t give me a one-way ticket to Creepyville Towers; when I see the word ‘crooked’, my mind leaps straight to old and rickety, all twisted limbs and slow walking, it takes me somewhere eccentric rather than somewhere dangerous. Still cunning but not necessarily evil.

Crooked is elderly but still full of wit, where the cunning comes from being underestimated and knowing about it. Crooked brings to mind Baba Yaga, Rumpelstiltskin, Moana’s grandmother (in the most wonderful way possible), Madam Mim (who wasn’t really bad, who I adore). When I am old and decrepit, I hope that I can be one of those crooked little crones that you might find in a fairy tale. Not an evil one, obviously, but the kind that looks like they have a secret (and does indeed have one), and the kind that does inexplicable things for what seems like no reason but actually has a plan.

Crooked brings to mind ramshackle buildings and shanty towns, fairy tale locations, leaning towers and dark woods with twisting branches. Crooked is a little bit magic, a little bit dark, and a little bit whimsical.

Is it any wonder that I love and use it so much?

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