January 31, 2024

Words of the Month - Kickstarter

         The big news is that my Kickstarter campaign has successfully been fully funded!  I am full of gratitude for all the backers who are supporting my mission to bring more joy and hope into the world through one small (but beautiful) book.  The campaign is still on-going for almost two more weeks, so there’s still plenty of time to join in if you were thinking about joining the fun, but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.  Here are a couple more teaser snippets to give you a taste of the sorts of art and writing that will be included.
        But of course that news isn’t all, because it’s the last day of January and that means it’s time for Words of the Month.  In honor of which, here are a few fun etymological factoids about the word kick-starter.
        The original kick-starter (noun) dates back to 1916 and is the method of starting a motorcycle’s internal combustion engine by pushing down a lever with the foot.  (The mechanism was apparently invented in 1910, but I guess the word wasn't coined until a few years later.)  The word then gained its attendant verb to kick-start, as well as the metaphorical meaning of getting any process off to a quick start.  Meanwhile, by the time Kickstarter was launched in 2009 to facilitate crowd-funding, kick-starters had become much less common in motorcycles, replaced by electric starters.  So far, so good.  But let’s look back even farther.
        Kick (verb) dates back to Middle English (late 14th century) and probably comes from Old Norse kikna meaning “bend the knee.”  However, some older etymologists thought it might come from Celtic.  Use as a noun didn’t appear until the 16th century.  Some of the more interesting slang meanings include the kick (the latest fashion) c. 1700, to kick (die) 
1725 (and kick the bucket in 1785), to kick oneself (self-reproach) 1891, kicks (shoes) 1904, and to get one’s kicks (get pleasure) 1941 (but kicks meant the high from alcohol or drugs in 1844 - it meant to end a drug habit in 1936).
        Start (verb) seems like an even more basic word, and goes all the way back to Old English.  There, however, it didn’t mean ‘“to begin,” but instead meant “to leap up, or to move or spring suddenly.”  This meaning still exists, although it’s less common nowadays, but you can still see it in the related startleStart doesn’t seem to have gained the sense of “to cause to begin acting or operating” (transitive) until the 1660s, and “to begin to move; to begin action” (intransitive) not until 1821!  It’s surprising to me that our primary definition of start is actually much more recent a word than the backers who supported my project!  Backer meaning “supporter, one who aids” dates back to the 1580s.
        Now that my own Kickstarter project has been fully backed, I can make use of a whole host of past senses of the words: I can bend my knees in gratitude, I can get my kicks from each new supporter, I can spring up in excitement, and I can begin my action in earnest, as I get to work putting this book together.

[Pictures: Scott Two-Stroke, 1910 (Image from cybermotorcycle.com);

Sample bits from Bittersweetness & Light, “Love Potion,” “Dreams,” text and illustrations by AEGN, 2023.]