by Papa Redcloud
Some words just cannot be pronounced. I'm not talking here about words like "onomatopoeia." That word can be vocalised without error or embarrassment only by English professors. But, in its proper environment, I have heard it uttered. The word which I am about to discuss has an easy and obvious pronunciation, it's just that no one ever wants to say it. A subject never comes up in oral discourse that would require its use. This is the word-"akimbo."
I have read something like "she stood there with her arms akimbo" many times. The first six hundred times, before I looked it up, I had to imagine what akimbo meant. I guessed that it did not mean that her arms were held limp at her sides. That is easily and directly described, does not require specialist vocabulary, and is not interesting enough to note. One could guess that "akimbo" meant spread out, but in that case, one wonders why did they not say "spread out" or "extended" or some such thing.
So I broke down and looked it up. "Akimbo" means "with hands on hips and elbows extended." How about that for a word combines the maximum in specificity with the minimum of general usefulness? Consider how useful "akimbo" can be. It is an adjective that can only modify one thing: arms. What else has hands and elbows and can be placed on hips? And one only says "arms akimbo" and never "arm akimbo." So it is always used in the plural.
Consider another limitation. Can you say-no, you can't say it-I mean, can you write "he stood there with arms akimbo"? Not likely. If it's a guy he likely has no discernable hips. He can only place his hands where his hips ought to be, and then he probably has such sweaty palms that they will slide right off. He can't stand there with "arms akimbo" because it would be such a fleeting thing that no observer would be able to notice it. The only way he could get his elbows to stick out would be to insert his hands in his pockets and then he would probably find it more comfortable to collapse his elbows back against his chest. In any case, elbows in our out, any candid witness would merely record that, like the impolite schmuck that he is, our male subject was standing there with his hands in his pockets.
Quad erat demonstrandum: It's a girl thing, this "akimbo."
And she can't always sit with "arms akimbo." Not if the chair has arms or if the chairs are arranged closely together. (I suppose she could lie with "arms akimbo." And so could a guy, if a girl was there to explain to him where his hips were.) So "akimbo" seems to be mostly a standing thing.
Now here is an interesting question: Why does she stand with arms akimbo? That is to say, what does she mean when she stands with arms akimbo? I think she does it as an expression of independence, defiance, power, and self-esteem. It is her way of telling a guy, or men in general: 1) I am a free spirit and you cannot constrain me with your patriarchal social conventions, for look how much space I take up with my arms akimbo; 2) I am really sexy (for arms akimbo has a tendency to arch the back and throw the breasts out); 3) (if the guy is small or easily intimidated, and most are) You're in trouble, buster; and 4) I look great with my sweater draped over my drawn-back shoulders and arms akimbo.
Not a very generally useful word, as I have indicated, and one that can only be used by some and in certain situations. But when used, I must admit it exudes a certain power. The single six-letter word conjures up the image of a female figure in a certain position. (I'll bet her feet are set somewhat apart and her head is drawn slightly back as well.) It also describes her attitude and her politics. So I see that we have discovered that gender liberation and female empowerment have no need of long treatises or manifestos. All we need is a single image, amply described in a fierce little word: akimbo. Akimbo! What a great rallying cry.
Ever noticed that its "arms akimbo" and not "akimbo arms"? This seems like a French construction. Yet I read that the word itself descends from Old Norse. Another example of defiance and power. Grammatical order turned upside down together with a veiled reference to Viking terror. The word just drips blood. And think, what happens (or happened) when you combine Vikings with the French? You get Normans, the last people to conquer England. Even Napoleon and Hitler couldn't do it! So this is high-test stuff, this akimbo.
One footnote: it has been suggested to me, by persons whose intelligence I have no reason to doubt, that it might be possible for a person to have, instead of "arms akimbo," "monkeys akimbo." In this case, the person would again have to be female in order to have hips for the monkeys to stand on. (Men, take my word for it, you don't want to have monkeys standing in your pockets.) The monkeys would hang on to the lady's shoulders and stick their posteriors out like elbows. This seems to me a possible, if highly unlikely situation. The woman would be exhibiting herself with a sort of hyper-akimbo, for she would be saying to the world, "look how much space I and my monkey minions take up!" and "You mess with me, brother, and I'll surely monkey with you!" And women look really good around monkeys. Look what the chimps did for Jane Goodall.