or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, January 30, 2009

Air Show

Here's a Boingboing piece on a story in a 1951 issue of Mechanics Illustrated (back issues of which I greedily devoured as a kid) about how in the future, everyone's going to have their own personal one-man helicopter. I think they're not, for the obvious reason that if something goes wrong, you're going to die. It's not like a car, where you have only two dimensions to work in (most of the time) and brakes are possible, not to mention guardrails and airbags.

Anyway, one of the commenters used the phrase "bailing wire", and while I am not in the habit of criticizing the spelling of people who post comments on blogs (they're not professionals, so they get to make mistakes), the spelling is wrong, and it led me to wonder just where the words "bale" and "bail" came from.

There are several definitions of "bail" in English, and some of them are related: let's see if you can guess which ones.

1) Money used to release an arrested person.
2) The handle of a bucket.
3) To use a bucket or other container to remove water from a boat.
4) To abandon an enterprise or an aircraft (usually with "out")

The two "bucket" senses, it may or may not surprise you to learn, are unrelated. The bucket-handle version actually seems to be related to "bagel", believe it or not: both are are straight objects bent into curves. The emptying-a-boat sense comes from Latin "baiulare", "to carry a load", which in Vulgar Latin became "baiula" and then in Old French "baille", a bucket, which made its way from there, as such things will do, into English. The money sense is also from this source: the Latin word became in Old French "baillier", "to take charge of", and this became "bayle", "custody", in Middle English, and from there our word meaning the money which frees you from that custody.

The correct term in the above case is "baling wire": wire used to tie things into bales. The word "bale" is an Old English derivation from Indo-European "bhel-": it is related to "ball" and "boll", and many other words (some of them amusing), which I believe I will get to tomorrow, because it's pretty late.


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