Awkward Moments

March 16, 2020
Whether you've said the wrong thing or tripped in front of a room full of people, we've all experienced awkward moments. These words will come in handy on National Awkward Moments Day because having a strong vocabulary should never be embarrassing.

Read more on our blog: Embrace the Clumsy Vocabulary of National Awkward Moments Day
He found him shooting jump shots from the top of the key, hard, artless shots with almost no arch.
There is an awkward pause between stories and the room gets too quiet.
A blunder is a mistake, which can create an awkward moment. Tripping over your feet or swearing during a job interview are two obvious blunders. This can be a noun or verb: you can make or commit a blunder, and you can blunder your way through life — though that is not recommended by nine out of 10 guidance counselors.
“I’m not sure,” I began, and then blundered on, rather foolishly, not thinking of my words, “I’d like to keep this moment and never forget it.”
The first meaning of botch wasn’t as bungling as the current meaning. As the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines it, botching in the 1300s meant: “To repair (a worn or damaged item, etc.); to mend; spec. to make clumsy, imperfect, or temporary repairs to; to patch up.” By the 1500s, the meaning has broadened to mean, “to carry out a task badly or incompetently.” Today, the patchy meaning is mostly forgotten, and this is a synonym for a goof or faux paus.
You are never again quite the same man after doing a poor job, after botching your work.
Bumble rhymes with stumble and has a related meaning: to bumble is to stumble around clumsily. A common word pairing, at least in the days of yore, was bumbling fool. We often say someone is bumbling around, bumbling about, or bumbling along. Klutzes are experts in bumbling.
Before we rounded a corner I looked back over my shoulder and saw the night-watch guy bumbling into the road in front of the house.
He took it with hands that suddenly seemed to him to be huge and clumsy and not at all small and in every way perfect like the hands of the faerie girl.
Howard sang louder than anybody and, personally, I thought it was a little embarrassing, but nobody else seemed to pay him any mind.
faux pas
This is a French term for a social blunder: sneezing loudly on a first date would be a serious faux pas.
Sometimes comments were made on the style faux pas of Mom.
“I’m asking you to try working for a change. At your age I was working hard, not floundering around in a fool’s dream world.”
A flub is another word for a blunder or gaffe. Like blunder, flub is also a verb: you could flub a marriage proposal by forgetting the other person’s name, and a baseball player could flub a fly ball by dropping it. The origin of this word is uncertain, but it is an American term. One of the earliest recorded uses is by author P.G. Wodehouse in 1926 and involves a tough day on the golf course: “The spectacle of a flubber flubbing ahead of us on the fairway inclines to make us flub as well.”
There was one line she flubbed a bit, but Justin covered for her, and no one in the audience even noticed.
This borrowing from French has been found in English since at least 1909, the date of this example from the Pall Mall Gazette: “These two gentlemen, whose weather predictions are still listened to with some deference, have made a bad ‘gaffe’, to use a popular slang expression.” Based on that evidence, the term may be quite a bit older, since it always takes some time for spoken terms to make it into writing.
The Chiefs were very fortunate to get the victory at New England, given the officiating gaffes that went in their favor.
This word shares three letters with awkward as well as plenty of meaning: a gawky person is clumsy and usually overgrown. The word most often paired with gawky is probably teenager. Since teens are growing rapidly and going through puberty, they tend to be gawky: they’re just not used to their bodies. Similarly, a gawky, big-pawed puppy tends to stumble all over the place. Once the puppy grows into its skin, it’ll be a lot more coordinated.
Through middle school he was this gawky and goofy kid with a cute smile.
This word is a little more serious than the rest these mostly lighthearted words for ungraceful words and actions. An incompetent doctor could misdiagnose a patient. An incompetent driver could cause a wreck. An incompetent astronaut could violate our treaties with the lizard people. (Note to self: Check on current status of space treaties and existence of lizard people).
But to Falconer I was apparently no more than an unskilled and incompetent prentice, not fit to converse with or share a room with.
This is one of the gentler insults in English. The OED definition shows how the word has shifted in meaning since it first popped up in English about 100 years ago: “Originally: an awkward, socially inept person; a fool. Now more usually: a clumsy person.” If you know someone who often drops things, trips over their own feet, and bumps into walls, you know a klutz. To be a klutz, you have to be awkward frequently, not just once in a while. The adjective form is klutzy.
Unfortunately, because I’m a total klutz, I dropped it on the floor.
To stumble is to trip. Parents often stumble over their children’s toys.
Monday stumbled into homeroom, her legs shaking with every measured step.

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