• Paul Anthony Jones

Skenchback

(adj.) having a strong family resemblance, or exhibiting a noticeable family trait; instantly recognizable in some way



Here’s a word you’d no doubt find useful if only it were better known: someone described as skenchback exhibits an obvious family resemblance, or is somehow instantly recognizable.



That’s a dialect term first recorded in print in the 1800s, but likely in use in spoken and regional English considerably longer than that.


Its origins are murky, but there is at least a firm theory here from one of the first Victorian-era dictionaries to record it:


“You must know such a person, if you have ever seen him, he’s skenchback enough.” In Staffordshire, I am informed, skench is a common term for a strain in the back; and, as spinal deformity often arises from such an accident, it is probable that our compound has so originated.
Anne Elizabeth Baker, A Glossary of Northamptonshire (Vol. 2, 1854)

A skench, then, is a misshapen back—precisely the kind of feature that would make some unfortunate bearer of it instantly recognizable. It’s likely that the use of this word to mean ‘sharing an obvious family trait’ is a later application of this original sense, and it’s in this way that the word seems to be best used today.

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