hulk (n.)

Old English hulc "light, fast ship" (glossing Latin liburna, but in Middle English a heavy, unwieldy one), probably from Old Dutch hulke and Medieval Latin hulcus, perhaps ultimately from Greek holkas "merchant ship," literally "ship that is towed," from helkein "to pull, draw, drag" (from PIE root *selk- "to pull, draw").

"[A] word of early diffusion among the maritime peoples of Western Europe" [OED]. Meaning "body of an old, worn-out ship" is first recorded 1670s. The Hulks ("Great Expectations") were old ships used as prisons. Sense of "big, clumsy person" is first recorded c. 1400 (early 14c. as a surname: Stephen le Hulke).

HULK. In the sixteenth century the large merchantman of the northern nations. As she grew obsolete, her name was applied in derision to all crank vessels, until it came to be degraded to its present use, i.e., any old vessel unfit for further employment. [Geoffrey Callender, "Sea Passages," 1943]

hulk (v.)

"to be clumsy, unwieldy, or lazy," 1789, from hulk (n.) or a back-formation from hulking. Meaning "rise massively" is from 1880. Related: Hulked; hulking.

updated on September 25, 2018