This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Thing To Do Today: steeve.

We can always look words up, of course, but the fact of the matter is that life is short and some words look rather boring.

For me, stevedore has always been one of those. It was obvious that stevedores were strong and to be found in dockyards, but as to what they were doing there I'd never until recently bothered to enquire.

But what they were doing, of course, was steeving: that is, they were packing the cargo of a ship.

Wikimedia Commons

(Confusingly, there's another verb to steeve, also to do with ships, which means to arrange a spar so that juts out at a slope.)

Now, it may be that you have no plans to pack the hold of a ship today - or, indeed, on any day - but a word for the action of packing everything away carefully so that everything fits and doesn't fall about when it's in motion is one we surely need whenever we pack a car, or a suitcase, or even a drawer.

Is everything properly steeved?

It's a question I've been wanting to ask for decades. 

And now, at last, I know how.

Thing To Do Today: steeve. The origin of the word meaning to arrange a spar at an angle is mysterious, but the word for packing something neatly comes from the Spanish estibar, to pack in tightly, from the Latin stīpāre, to cram full.

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