A WORD IN THE HAND: PLUMB
The measure of a sloe drop from pothole to pit of misty metaphors
A column to satisfy your inner grammar nerd
I received a response to last week’s column (which was about trades and tradesmen, in case you’ve forgotten), pertinently pointing out that the word “plumb” is a plump and juicy example of eccentric etymology. So I thought I’d plumb its depths.
The verb “to plumb” comes from the 15th-century noun plumb, which in turn comes from Latin plumbum, meaning lead. A plumb was a piece of lead hung on a string to measure the depth of a well or a pothole. Lead was used because it was heavy and thus caused the measuring string to hang straight.
Carpenters still use this device for measuring things. Some call it a plumb bob, which may be how Bob the builder got his name. (Plumbago, incidentally, is not back pain experienced by plumbers after plumbing too many depths. It is a type of graphite, or a plant with greyish plumage.)..