British Slang: “Berk”

For presentations in one of my classes, we had panels grouped by subject. Our instructor titled the panels, and tried his best to make them clever. One title is “Becoming Berk-men in The Squid in the Whale,” which is playing upon the fact that the characters’ last name in The Squid and the Whale is Berkman. The informant is NB, and the following exchange happened on a classwide basis. It was afterward that I asked the informant’s permission to put this in the folklore database.

NB: So now, we have “Becoming Berk-men in The Squid in the Whale” [He emphasized the word “Berk”]

Everyone in the class exchanged confused glances and made confused noises, such as “huh?”

NB: What? You don’t get it? I thought it was quite clever. Do you guys not know what a berk is?

Various people responded no, asked him to explain

NB: Ohh, it must be a British thing! Really? You don’t use “berk”? Huh, wow. You know, it’s someone annoying or rude or… Like you might say, “That guy’s such a twat–”

Student: Like “jerk”? (Other classmates agreed)

NB: Oh, yeah sure, whatever.

At a later date, the following exchange occurred.

PH: Oh, for my folklore project I need to know where you’re originally from!

NB: I’m from southwest Exeter, but the things I’ve said haven’t necessarily been specific to that area
It was interesting that the informant was not aware it was a solely British slang word, and that when trying to explain it, he once again used a distinctly British slang word, as opposed to an American one. It is also interesting to me that students’ attempt to relate it to an American word chose a word that rhymed, as if there might be a connection. Based off of the informant’s synonym of twat, the word jerk isn’t an accurate synonym, but I think he just wanted to move on with the class. The informant does not know the origins of this slang word, but it is documented on various websites.