A musical culture began to take shape amid the unrest of Great Britain during the mid nineteen-seventies. With the emergence of bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the punk rock movement sparked a nihilistic ethos and a new sound that would change the musical landscape forever. While the modern day use of the word “punk” might suggest anarchistic youth, William Shakespeare used the term quite differently over four hundred years ago. So how did this word evolve from a derogatory term aimed at a woman to a derogatory term aimed at a young man?

Although its exact etymology is not known, the termpunk” has survived numerous changes in meaning throughout the centuries. The first recorded use of the term (unknown origin) occurred in the early 1590s, with reference to a “prostitute, harlot.” The term “taffety punk,” a reference to “a well dressed whore,” appears in William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, penned between 1604 and 1605.

The Scottish, spunk, meaning “a spark,” is a 1530s reference to burning embers and ashes. A similar use of the word can be found in a 1618 account by native inhabitants of Virginia as a reference to overcooked corn: “Some of them, more thriftye then cleanly, doe burn the coare of the eare to powder, which they call ‘pungnough,’ mingling that in their meale, but yet never tasted well in bread or broath.” Native peoples throughout the Delaware region of the United States  used the word ponk around this time to reference “rotten wood used as tinder.”

By 1896, and perhaps fueled by the “rotten” connotation to the term, punk had become synonymous with “something worthless” and “young criminal” — specifically in relation to a male youth. It is perhaps the latter definition that Dave Marsh had in mind when he coined the phrase “punk rock” in his May 1971 column featured in Creem magazine.

Does the story behind the word “hip-hop” date back to the 19th century? Find out here.

Maths Week

The Irish Times October 15, 2010 Q Three mathematicians were discussing their ages, when the eldest one said to the youngest: “Eleven years ago I was twice your age”. The third mathematician also noticed a connection: “Twenty- two years ago I was twice your age,” he said to the youngest. web site cool maths games in our site cool maths games

The youngest pointed out that the square of her age and the square of the middle mathematician’s age is equal to the square of the older mathematician’s age. What are their ages?

A 33, 44, 55.

WHAT’S ON TODAY Maths in the City, Belfast, family event at Belfast City Hall from noon to 3pm.

TOMORROW Family Maths Fun, outdoor maths, games, puzzles and performers at Dunsink Observatory, Dublin, from noon to 2.30pm


  1. James Hutchings -  April 10, 2012 - 10:33 am

    As a few people have said, I thought it was more to do with ‘punk’ as in a young homosexual, softened and generalised to mean arrogant, worthless young men (‘you little punks!’).

  2. Rich -  September 4, 2011 - 7:28 am

    Likely related to “The Scottish, spunk, meaning “a spark,” is a 1530s reference to burning embers and ashes”, around 1970 in southeastern Massachusetts we called the smouldering sticks used to light fireworks fuses “punks”. They were pretty much stick incense without the scent.

    I can’t be sure where we picked the word up, but it was likely my Father, who was born in 1925 and grew up in Providence, RI. His family never particularly identified themselves as being of any particular national origin, although the paternal branch of the family was French Canadian.

  3. Jeff -  August 7, 2011 - 7:43 pm

    Interesting about the Dave Marsh reference. Yet another one of those instances where a term is invented and then something is found in order to fit the definition…

  4. jebbiii -  August 6, 2011 - 8:28 am

    I was immediately thinking of Huckleberry Finn and the book’s use of the term “spunk water”, being the foul water in the bowl of a rotten stump used in a potion, if i remember correctly. thanks a lot for the good read

  5. Bill -  August 4, 2011 - 5:56 am

    Oh, how I dislike the cliche, “that would change forever.”

  6. Fred B -  August 3, 2011 - 8:36 am

    “Punk” prior to its general usage as “hoodlum” was a common 20th century prison term for a young male on the receiving end of a homosexual encounter.

  7. Renoard -  August 3, 2011 - 2:10 am

    Punk has been used in American prisons to refer to the receiver of anal penetration during anal intercourse. A punk is often an unwilling participant who is cowed or coerced to participate. Hence Punk is synonymous with Bugger in British parlance and punking is synonymous to buggering. It is used as a pejorative almost exclusively in American dialect, except when referring to social or political protest as in the case of Punk Rock and literary genre’s like Cyberpunk and Steampunk.

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