A Junk of Bread.

A correspondent writes:

In his book, An Inland Voyage, Robert Louis Stevenson writes the following:

“Half-way between Willebroek and Villevorde, in a beautiful reach of canal like a squire’s avenue, we went ashore to lunch. There were two eggs, a junk of bread, and a bottle of wine on board the Arethusa…” (From the chapter “On the Willebroek Canal”, 7th paragraph.)

I thought that “junk” was a typo for “chunk”. I checked it against a second copy (different publisher) and it was indeed “junk”. (Unless the later copy merely reproduced the earlier, without so much as a by your leave.) Have you ever come across “junk” used this way?

As for “squire’s avenue”, well, it seems to me simply a description of the road or path to a squire’s estate.

I was unfamiliar with this usage and also would have thought of a typo, but the OED (entry revised 2019) reveals that this is an older usage (sense 2) than the familiar one (sense 5), and not yet quite obsolete:

1.† Originally and chiefly Nautical.
1.a. An old or inferior cable or rope; (sometimes) spec. one used as a fender. Frequently modified by old. Obsolete.

2. A piece or lump of something; a chunk, a hunk. Also figurative. In later use chiefly regional.
1726 I..gave to each of them a short Junk of Pipe.
Four Years Voyages Captain George Roberts 155
1980 Large junks of beef were boiled or roasted in very large pots.
D. K. Cameron, Willie Gavin iv. 39
2017 I just paid a big junk of my school debt, I can’t wait to go back. It’s time.
@shortsteph2 12 July in twitter.com (O.E.D. Archive)

5.a. Old or discarded items or materials that may be reused or recycled, such as used clothing, bottles, scrap metal, worn-out machinery, etc.; (sometimes simply) waste, refuse, rubbish.
1836 We have expended but a very small sum in building..and about the same sum for additional furniture, clothing, stationery, junk, &c.
Earl of Liverpool, Account Operation Poor Law Amendm. Uckfield Union 17

(The word is “Of uncertain origin. Perhaps a variant or alteration of another lexical item.”) Are you familiar with this “piece or lump of something” sense? Thoughts on “squire’s avenue” are also welcome, of course. (Thanks, Jay!)


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    I too would have just thought “typo for ‘chunk,'” or maybe some sort of weird eye-dialect for someone who pronounces “chunk” funny. To the extent it’s now “chiefly regional,” the 1980 book by Cameron is supposedly “a portrait of a crofting life in the bare and sometimes bitter landscape of Scotland’s North-east lowlands.” Maybe harder to determine the regional origin of @shortsteph2, especially since that twitter personality is currently in “Account suspended” status. But maybe saying “school debt” for (I assume) what is more frequently called “student loans” or “student loan debt” in AmEng is a clue?

  2. Keith Ivey says

    Searching for “big junk of” on The Cesspool Formerly Known as Twitter gives way more results than I’d have expected.

  3. When I read “a junk of bread”, I just thought of languages where ch and j aren’t distinguished.

    To make such a typo (when using a keyboard) you too need to find them similar.

  4. “Squire’s avenue” makes me think of a straight or a gently curving carriageway leading to a grand house, tree-lined but with open fields or lawn beyond. So it could be comparable to a canal passing through a similar landscape – except without the prospect of a grand house.

  5. i’m wondering about the chunk/hunk/junk triplet, and whether they’re a perhaps-mutually-infuencing convergence or have a shared etymon. there’s a lot of uncertain and unknown in the wiktionary entries.

  6. 2017 I just paid a big junk of my school debt, I can’t wait to go back. It’s time.
    @shortsteph2 12 July in twitter.com (O.E.D. Archive)

    i have …questions… about this kind of source material being used to document usage. it seems extremely likely to me that this is a voice-to-text or autocorrect artifact – and that’s me hedging because i can’t clearly remember when my friends started to switch to voice-to-text. personally, i would want direct confirmation from the writer before using it as any kind of evidence.

  7. I haven’t read An Inland Voyage, but I recalled the word from some of Stevenson’s other writings. Israel Hands uses it during a lull in his conflict with Jim Hawkins over control of the ship:

    “Cut me a junk o’ that,” says he, “for I haven’t no knife and hardly strength enough, so be as I had. Ah, Jim, Jim, I reckon I’ve missed stays! Cut me a quid, as’ll likely be the last, lad, for I’m for my long home, and no mistake.”

    Stevenson also uses the OED‘s sense 3 of junk

    Originally and chiefly Nautical. More fully salt junk. Salt meat, esp. as used as food on long sea voyages. Formerly also in †old junk, †tough junk. Now chiefly historical

    both later in Treasure Island (“fried junk”) and Kidnapped (“salt junk”).

  8. About the possible relationship between chunk and junk, I would just note that a change from ch to j is also seen in Middle English a char ‘ajar ’ (as of a door; 1st attestation in the MED from circa 1400?) and ajar (late 18th century?). The same perhaps in ME chammen ‘bite, gnash’ (cf. ModE champ) beside ModE jam ‘press, be pressed, be wedged in’ (seems to appear at the beginning of the 18th century).

    There is also the difficult case of jaw. See the OED’s old etymological note on jaw here, p. 560, end of column A. There don’t seem to have been any modifications to this note in subsequent editions, to judge from what I see online on my iPad on the bus. (I hate this new OED format.) Also observe at the end of this OED note: “Compare… Marston’s jawn for chawn n., and chawn v.”. The obsolete chawn means ‘gap, cleft, chink’ and ‘to gape; to cleave’. (Here is an occurrence of jawn in Marston.)

    And there is the extremely difficult and complicated case of English jowl, apparently resulting from the collision of ME chavel, chaule ‘jaw’ (OE cēafl) and ME cheole (early), cholle, chelle ‘gullet, dewlap, double chin, jowl’ (which reminds one of OE ceole ‘guttur, fauces’ and German Kehle, although the phonological development of the ME from the OE is very problematic). See the OED’s etymological notes under jowl sb. 1 and 2 here.

    Perhaps other LH readers can find other examples.

  9. i have …questions… about this kind of source material being used to document usage. it seems extremely likely to me that this is a voice-to-text or autocorrect artifact

    Wow. I wouldn’t have thought of that (I don’t use voice-to-text), but now that you mention it, that’s an obvious problem that I hope they’ve thought of and are dealing with (but how?).

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    Even w/o voice-to-text, online postings in a sufficiently casual/unedited genre may also contain damn-you-autocorrect errors not actually intended by the writer but not spotted before posting. (My comments here would have more of those if Our Kindly Host’s software did not provide a post-posting grace period to go back and fix such things.)

  11. Keith Ivey says

    I too was skeptical of the tweet, but it turns out there are a lot of them, and I don’t think they’re all from voice-to-text or autocorrect (and autocorrect seems unlikely anyway). Try this one from 27 Nov 2009 by @Just_Mickeyy (whose location is Miami): “Ok 3am n knocked out a big junk of my xmas shoppin, now off to old navy n then walmart to wrap it up LOL”.

  12. David Marjanović says

    Kehle means “throat”, “front side of the neck”, BTW. Kehlkopf “larynx”.

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