We’ve all heard people criticize parents who permit their children to run amok in public places. Or do those badly brought up children run amuck?
The first recorded use of the phrase to run amok in English dates from the 1670s. The word amok is from Malay amuk, “attacking furiously.” The expression as we use it now usually means “to run about in a wild manner,” As a noun, amok can mean “a murderous frenzy.”
Before the phrase came into use, the word was used in its Portugeuse form amouco or amuco to mean “a frenzied Malay.”
The OED points out two uses by Dryden and Byron in which the word was used erroneously (without the prefix a-):
And runs an Indian muck at all he meets. –Dryden
Thy waiters running mucks at every bell. –Byron
A web search shows plenty of examples of both amok and amuck. There’s a blog with the title “Running Amuck,” and a 5K race called the “RunAmuck Mud Run.”
Here are some other examples:
People who permit their children to run amuck in places of business should be locked in a cage with an angry gorilla.
HOAs are a good idea run amok
As a caregiver, plaintiff has allowed the children to run amok in neighborhoods where they lived.
So which is the “correct” spelling?
Writing in the first half of the last century, H. W. Fowler preferred amuck. He classed the spelling amok, along with sati and Khalif for the more familiar spellings suttee and Caliph, as a “didacticism.”
Dictionary devotees whose devotion extends to the etymologies think it bad for the rest of us to be connecting amuck with muck, & come to our rescue with amok.
On the eve of the year 2010, however, the spelling amok seems to have won. A web search gives amuck 694,000 hits; amok garners 4,350,000.