Political correctness run amuck, or amok, or whatever

Today’s Scenes from a Multiverse (on-line here):

But think of the children, the being on the right objects, while the main speaker espouses rapey misogyny as true art. But my real interest here is in the idiom run amuck — or should it be run amok?


amok (also amuck)   adverb (in phrase run amok)   behave uncontrollably and disruptively: stone-throwing anarchists running amok | figurative : her feelings seemed to be running amok.

ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: via Portuguese amouco, from Malay amok ‘rushing in a frenzy.’ Early use was as a noun denoting a Malay in a homicidal frenzy; the adverb use dates from the late 17th cent.

So amok is the original, but the history is much more complex than that. The early cites in OED2 are much inclined to spellings that reproduce the pronunciation:

run a mucke (1672), running amock (or a-muck) (1790), run amuck (1833), running amuck (1858), the running amok (or amuck) (1879)

and then in the 20th century, amok returns and holds the field, in citations from 1933, 1972, and 1980.

The Daily Writing Tips site, trying to advise writers as to the “correct” spelling of the word, noted this history and added the advice of H. W. Fowler, who

classed the spelling amok, along with sati and Khalif for the more familiar spellings suttee and Caliph, as a “didacticism.”

So for Fowler, it was amuck all the way. But the original spelling has reasserted itself, and Daily Writing Tips notes that as of 2010, amok hugely overshadowed amuck on the net, though both were well attested. Still, it would be sensible to follow NOAD2 and treat both spellings as acceptable.

2 Responses to “Political correctness run amuck, or amok, or whatever”

  1. Ben Zimmer Says:

    The anglicization of amok as amuck (likely under the influence of muck up) is a nice example of “the law of Hobson-Jobson.” Discussion here, Hobson-Jobson entry for a-muck here.

  2. Tané Tachyon Says:

    And there’s even a comic book named “Run & Amuk”: https://www.facebook.com/run.n.amuk

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