In Reply to: Larking posted by Dave Johnson on March 06, 2010 at 15:59:
: Re the definition of 'Lark' [in 'lark about']. While the offers here are certainly believable (and as a Yorkshireman I can see how the pronunciation could be misunderstood), I've always assumed that lark (or indeed lake, in the Yorkshire sense) came from the scandinavian (perhaps Norwegian or Old Norse?) 'Lek' as in 'Fartlek' (no sniggering, please) meaning literally speed-play - hence lek 'to play'?
That very suggestion is the first one made in the Meanings and Origins list, here: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/lark-about.html.
The Oxford English Dictionary isn't prepared to decide between the "lake" and the "skylark" origins. It defines the verb "lark" thus: "To play tricks, frolic; to ride in a frolicsome manner; to ride across country". The companion noun "lark" is defined as "A frolicsome adventure, a spree".
Of the etymology it says:
"The noun and verb appear first in 1811-3. The origin is somewhat uncertain. Possibly it may represent the northern LAKE v., as heard by sporting men from Yorkshire jockeys or grooms; the sound, which is written 'lairk' in Robinson's Whitby Glossary and in dialect books, would to a southern hearer more naturally suggest 'lark' than 'lake' as its equivalent in educated pronunciation. On the other hand, it is quite as likely that the word may have originated in some allusion to [the bird] LARK; cf. the similar use of the verb 'skylark' which is found a few years earlier in 1809.