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Word Geekery: Plumbing - The Ninja Pencil

Nov. 25th, 2012

04:37 pm - Word Geekery: Plumbing

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I am a word geek. Etymology is up there among my favorite subjects in life. I love words, language, where stuff can from, how it came to be known, how the words were formed and what cultural influences were involved – the more word-geekery I can find, the better. One of my favorite constructions is “plumbing”.
A plumber didn’t always just fix your toilet. “Plumber” was a collective term for anyone who worked with Lead, including roofers working with lead tiles, cannery workers canning food (prior to us learning that lead was toxic - incidentally, this is what killed English explorer John Franklin, on his expedition through the Northwest passage through the Arctic ocean), and of course, our traditionally known plumbers, who worked with lead pipes. The periodic table symbol for lead is Pb, from the Latin name of the material ‘Plumbum’.
So to “plumb the depths” of something came from when we would hang a lead weight on string, to measure the depths of a hole or body of water, which we still do today, all the time, when we go fishing. Although lead has been replaced by less toxic materials in most cases, as nobody but the most twisted of our species likes to cause Swans & Mallards to die horribly.
Plumbers’ Arse, however, is taken from the more modern phenomena of today’s plumbers failing to wear belts, and then bending over and revealing their butt-cleavage while they stop your sink from leaking. Hopefully, they do not leak themselves.

Chris

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