or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Squeeze Play

Typos. They hunt me down.

After I got home from work tonight (at 10:15 or so), I was in the bathroom taking out my contact lenses and wondering what, if anything, I was going to write about. I hadn't been particularly inspired today, so I just starting reading some websites, as I usually do, and here, in The Onion A.V. Club interview with Sam Rockwell, is this sentence:

Both characters are put through the ringer.

They are? Through the ringer? The ringer is the thing they're put through? How about that.

I know technology has changed (and I have an amusing story about that in a minute), but wouldn't you think that young people might have heard of pre-1960s washing machines, the ones that didn't just whip the clothes around until centrifugal force dragged most of the water out of them but instead forced you to put the clothing through a pair of rollers to achieve this end? Mightn't they have seen such a thing in an old movie, or read about it in a book? Or anything?

Well, maybe not. But the idiom remains in the language, and when people (or wet clothes) are in a high-pressure situation, they're being put through the wringer.

Those things were dangerous, by the way, particularly the electrically powered ones; if you got your hand caught in one, you were in trouble. (This, presumably, is what led to the altogether too graphic expression get your tit in a wringer.)


The store in which I work is undergoing a corporate overhaul, and the place is being scoured from top to bottom. Naturally, things that have accumulated are being disposed of them, and at the front of the store tonight was a basket full of such detritus. I pulled out an old credit-card machine, the hand-operated kind that has you put in the card and then a little sheaf of pages which are imprinted when you run a set of rollers back and forth (clunk-CLUNK) over the platen. One of the workers tonight was a girl of 17, and not only had she never seen such a thing, she couldn't even conceive of how it worked. We explained it to her, and she said, "But what does it do?" I think she was baffled by the fact that it clearly didn't plug in anywhere. We had to describe how, in the olden days, you'd make a credit slip in triplicate, and give one to the customer, keep one for your records, and give the third one to the bank. No instantaneous online authentication in those days!


"Wring", in case you were wondering (I always am, so I figure other people must be, too), is from an enormous family of related Indo-European roots: this particular word is from the "wergh-" branch of the family. Its meaning is "to turn", and members of the family include not only "wring" (from Old English "wringan", "to twist") but also "wrong" (which we can think of as "crooked" or "twisted"), "wrangle" (related to a Germanic word meaning "to wrestle"), and "worry", which descends from an Old English word meaning "to strangle", because an old meaning of "worry" (still occasionally seen) is "to grab, especially by the throat, and shake". By the 17th century, "worry" had taken on a more metaphorical sense, "to bother or harass", and in the 19th century, the modern feeling of the word--"to cause or to feel anxiety"--was in ascendancy.


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