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West Indies' batsman Ravi Rampaul plays a shot which may or may not be a hoik.

There aren’t many points of intersection between the gentlemanly game of cricket and the ungentlemanly act of spitting, and you’d have to be a little odd to go looking for them. However, the work hoik is one such example.

Cricket is a game that has managed to withstand the distorting effects of being popular among well-to-do young gentlemen during two periods of extreme linguistic silliness – the Victorian era, and the 1920s – with only a few strange bits of daft jargon to show for it.

Well, I say a few, actually there are an astonishing amount: silly mid-on, googley, bosey, dilscoop, dibbly dobbly. The whole damn game is like a brainstorm to name a new family of Teletubbies. And some of the words have found their way into other areas of British life.

If you’re a batsman, and the ball is hurtling towards you at such a tremendous speed that your only chance is to lash out blindly, smacking it up into the air without finesse or precision, and hoping that no one is waiting at the end of its arc of flight, that’s a hoik. You’ve hoiked the ball up and out, unceremoniously, in a manner which is both brutal and yet still effective.

So, in real life, if your children are refusing to get out of the bath, and you’re in a hurry, what you do is hoik them out, before administering an over-vigorous towelling off. If your cat is hiding under the car, you hoik it out before setting off. You’re not clearing a blockage, you’re grabbing an obstruction that you care about enough not to knock it aside, and pulling it up and out of the way, the way a mother gorilla yanks an annoying cub out of the path of a grumpy male.

And this is where the overlap occurs with spitting. Hoik is such an onomatopoeic term that it is also used to describe the same action that Americans would call hawking a loogie, with the result that it has a slightly low-rent reputation, as if the ignominy of a poorly-played cricket shot wasn’t bad enough. Having said that, I heard it used on a BBC News report yesterday, to describe a last-minute package of financial recovery in the British economy, so it can’t be that bad.

There’s also hack, another of our greatest Swiss-army knife words, which can be a verb used to refer to the action of cutting through undergrowth, a noun for a tabloid journalist, or an adjective, describing a phlegmy cough – again, it’s to do with the sound of the thing. And if you’re annoyed, or fed up with something wearisome, you can tell people you’re hacked off., because it sounds sweary even though it isn’t.

So, to recap: hoik is an upwards motion, hawk is downwards, and hack is (among many other things) outwards, and, assuming you have no handkerchief, all over your hands.

 Any more British slang that you find baffling? Tell us here:

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Filed Under: Fraser's Phrases
By Fraser McAlpine