Parky weather

Beryl Bainbridge’s 1996 novel Every Man for Himself, whose events take place on board the Titanic, uses (and mentions) an adjective I don’t remember seeing in print before, though I think I’ve heard it on British TV:

Beryl Bainbridge - every man for himself - Abacus book coverIt was cold on deck and the few people about had sensibly put on coats and scarves. We walked to the dull roar of the ship as it waded the leaden sea. The night was moonless, windless; rags of dance music floated up from the deck below. ‘It’s parky,’ I exclaimed, the word rising from my subconscious like a fish from the deep.

‘A curious adjective,’ Scurry pondered. ‘It can mean both inclement weather and a sharpness of tongue. It’s intriguing, don’t you agree, the flotsam we allow to surface from the past?’

The OED has no entry for parky ‘sharp-tongued’, or even ‘inclement’. It defines the word as ‘cold, chilly’ – presumably the narrator’s intended sense – with citations from 1895. Its etymology is uncertain. Parky can also mean ‘resembling or relating to parks’ or ‘having lots of parks’, and is a variant of parkie ‘park-keeper’, but these are relatively run-of-the-mill usages.

Something else I liked about this passage from Bainbridge is the description of ‘rags of dance music’ floating up along the ship, rags not only evoking the threads of melody adrift in the north Atlantic night but also perhaps providing a clue to the type of music being played: ragtime, one of my first loves on piano.


13 Responses to Parky weather

  1. Thomas Denney says:

    I once heard a Scottish preacher talking about how, as a youth, he had to recite his “parky-piece.” I have no idea how this could be related, nor do I know exactly what it is, but I think it’s a child’s recitation of Biblical verses.

    I have also wondered where the term “parka” came for a heavy winter coat with hood, unless perhaps it’s a brand name. It looks like it could relate to the “cold, chilly” meaning referenced in the article.

    Tom Denney
    Houston, Texas

    • seajay23 says:

      Perhaps you misheard “party piece”; when I was a child it meant a recital or song you were called on to perform at family gatherings, usually to great personal embarrassment. I will never forget the terror as an eight-year old of singing Greensleeves in front of literally scores of relatives (we had a big family).

      • Thomas Denney says:

        That sure sounds right! Yes, hence the expression, “Adulthood is the period of time we spend in recovery from childhood.”

  2. I would suggest a corruption of ‘pawky’, meaning cunning, sly; having or characterized by a dry wit. From Scots ‘pawk’, meaning ‘trick’. From THE VALLEY OF FEAR, by Conan Doyle: “A touch! A distinct touch!” cried Holmes. “You are developing a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson, against which I must learn to guard myself.”

  3. John Cowan says:

    Wordnik cites Patrick O’Brian’s Thirteen-Gun Salute:

    “‘You will need a watch-coat, sir,’ he added. ‘It is right parky up there.'”

    That suggests that it was already current in the early 19C, as O’Brian is generally good about avoiding anachronisms.

  4. seajay23 says:

    Parka is a possibility; the Wikipedia entry cites its first recorded use in English as 1625 and states that it is an Inuit or Nenet word meaning animal skin.

  5. Claire Stokes says:

    Fascinating as ever.. love that note about Ragtime (also a favorite of mine). I wonder if it was intended – I hope so. As far as ‘parky’ – completely new to me. Will have to start using right away!

  6. ladolcevita2004 says:

    I use parky a lot, as in “it’s a big parky out – better take a coat”.

  7. Luke F says:

    Where I’m from (NE England) you might hear ‘narky’ rather than ‘parky’ used to mean something like the second definition Bainbridge gives to Scurry.
    This got me thinking about a great contronym: the phrase ‘it’s a bit George in here’.
    To me it means ‘it’s a bit warm…’ (George = George Michael = Wham: pronunciation of ‘warm’ and ‘wham’ are similar in Geordie English).
    But I’ve just googled it and apparently it usually means ‘it’s a bit cold…’ (Cockney rhyming slang: George = George and Zippy [from children’s TV show Rainbow] = ‘nippy’).

  8. Stan Carey says:

    Thanks for your interesting comments. I like the ‘parka’ hypothesis; there may be something to it, though I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. Good to learn, too, that it seems significantly older than the OED suggests. It’s pretty parky in Ireland at the moment, so I’ll take the word for a test-drive later.

  9. Warren Maguire says:

    There’s also ‘perky’ to consider (/er/ > /ar/ being a frequent change in English, surviving especially in dialects).

  10. Debunker says:

    Not that I’m a bigot or anything, but what’s wrong with foundered, starved with the cold or indeed conáilte?

  11. Stan Carey says:

    Thanks, Warren. I hadn’t thought about that possible connection.

    Aren’t we lucky to have such a range of expressions. In fact, I wrote about starved with the cold a few years ago.

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