Usually when I come up with a new word to write about, I just start cracking open my dictionaries. Even if the word is obscure, the OED will usually have something if none of my other dictionaries does.
But when my friend Rick at work asked me to write about the slang work merk, I figured it was going to take more work than that. Slang, especially new slang, is largely absent from dictionaries.
Rick said something about “getting merked” at work on Sunday. I looked at him funny and asked what it meant. He said it was slang that meant “to kill.” As in, “If that Crip goes into the Bloods’ territory, he’s gonna get merked.”
I began digging into it. The Urban Dictionary, which contains user-submitted definitions of slang, had several definitions for both merk and merc, mostly centering on the idea of killing, although the entry for merc also says that it can mean “to leave,” as in the line from the Mos Def song Miss Fat Booty: “I’m about to merc, I say peace to the family.”
There were also references in Urban Dictionary and elsewhere on the Web that say merk and merc, in the sense of killing, come from the word mercenary.
I kept looking, since I wanted something more definitive than the Urban Dictionary. Like Wikipedia, it’s a great reference. But it doesn’t carry as much authority.
Then I found the Double-Tongued Dictionary, which “records undocumented or under-documented words from the fringes of English, with a focus on slang, jargon, and new words. This site strives to record terms and expressions that are absent from, or are poorly covered in, mainstream dictionaries.”
The site is run by lexicographers and other experts, and was created by Grant Barrett, “an American lexicographer and editorial director of the online dictionary Wordnik. He is also editor of The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English (May 2006, McGraw-Hill) and co-host of the language-related public radio show A Way With Words, broadcast nationwide via radio, streaming, and podcast.”
That’s more than enough authority for me. Here’s their entry on merk:
- 1. to kill (someone); to verbally or physically attack someone; to defeat, to overcome someone or something, to do well
- 2. to depart; to travel (to a place).
- Also murk, mirk.
What I really like is that they give a long list of citations for the word, both from media sources and from blogs and other places people write online.
(Note, these citations contain language.)
Here are two about killing:
- 1999 GoldenChild Usenet: rec.music.hip-hop (Feb. 17) “This Big-L thing”: The sad thing is, if Big-L wasn’t a rapper then niggas wouldn’t even care that he got merked. Theres hundreds of kids everyday that get slain just like that in ghettos across the country.
- 2001 David Weiss Wilkes-Barre Times Leader (Penn.) (Sept. 14) “Wilkes-Barre Man Charged In Killing” p. 21A: “That’s when I did him,” Yenglee told a witness, according to arrest papers. “I merked (murdered) him.”
And one about leaving:
- 2005 LiveJournal for Matt (Newport News, Va.) (Jan. 30) “People are crazy”: But the girl who had invited me was the one screaming, and telling everyone to get the fuck out. At that point, I’d had enough bullshit for one night. So..Me, Daniel and Perm merked. I went to Chenellos to help Chris close.
There are a bunch more on there if you want to dig into it.
As for merk (or merc) coming from mercenary, we can go back to the regular dictionaries. Merc is also a colloquialism for mercenary, according to the OED, which has these citations:
- 1967 “Time 11 Aug. 28/2 Zambesi Club ‘mercs’ are white Rhodesians and South Africans from Colonel ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare’s Fifth Commando.”
- 1988 B. Sterling, Islands in Net ix. 284 Any dumbass merc will fight for pay for Grenada or Singapore, or some jungle-jabber African regime.
- 1999 W. Gibson. All Tomorrow’s Parties xlviii. 199 He had a feeling the scarf was the one he’d really have to watch for; he couldn’t say why. ‘What if those mercs scope us leaving?’
The American Heritage Dictionary gives this etymology for mercenary: “From the Middle English mercenarie, from the Old French mercenaire, from the Latin mercēnnārius, from mercēs, meaning wages, price.”
UPDATE: As Rick points out in a comment below: “So then, Merk is a not-so-distant cousin to the more whitebread words merchandise, mercantile and market? Think about that the next time you merk the market. Or, god forbid, get merked in a Mercedes in the market parking lot.”