Words: irk, v.

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" `IRKS' IS terribly Edwardian. Nobody in England has said `irks' in years." So John Walsh informed Steve Martin the other day.

My generation did: a Classics master's initials I.R.C. prompted years of puns ("irksome prep"). Spurned by Walsh, much used by Shakespeare, irk came from Scandinavia via the North. Johnson quotes Addison: "there is nothing so irksome as general discourses, especially when they turn chiefly upon words".

On the contrary. Francis Wheen, for one, happily confesses to using irk ("a very handy word"). Julian Barnes promises to use it in his new novel, and discourses: "Is Walsh perhaps turning a variant on erk? Not Edwardian, it's war-time naval slang." Perhaps this was a subtext to Ian Clark's sobriquet.