This morning we have another bird — larking about!
“Larking” means to behave in a playful and mischievous way, or go on a merry, carefree adventure or frolic. It’s innocent or foolish or good-natured mischief; a prank, an escapade. Something extremely easy to accomplish, succeed in, or to obtain.
Use of it arose around 1805-1815, and it’s obviously been well-used, because it comes in several forms:
— larker, larkiness, larkishness: noun
— larkingly, larkishly: adverb
— larkish, larky: adjective
Two theories have been proposed to explain the source of the word or phrase. One is that “larking” derives from the Yorkshire dialect word ‘lake,’ meaning ‘to amuse oneself.’
The other suggests it derives from ‘skylark,’ and references the aerial acrobatics of the European Skylark. On the ground, these little birds are inconspicuous. In the air, they perform graceful spirals and trill beautiful songs. Boys who played around in the rigging of ships were referred to as skylarks.
The use of ‘lark’ as a verb begins soon after that, as in an entry for 1813 in the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Peter Hawker:
— “Having larked all the way down the road.”
The first mention of ‘larking about’ in print comes from an edition of the American magazine The Living Age, 1844:
— One of the young genelmen was called Mr. Larkins, and I’m blessed but the name he hailed by tallied exactly with the cast of his figure-head and the trim of his craft, for he was eternally larking about somut or other, and his very face displayed a mixture of fun and mischief.
I’d say it’s more likely the term came from “skylarks” or “skylarking.” The Yorkshire dialect is presumably pretty much confined to Yorkshire, whereas larks abound everywhere. Well, almost everywhere.