Thursday, July 1, 2010

Elbow Grease

See this door? It's the new bathroom door, or it will be when I've managed to strip off the dirty old varnish and got it back to the lovely Tasmanian Oak. This renovating nonsense is all about elbow grease. Things are constantly rubbed and scraped and rubbed some more with a lot of huffing and puffing and barely audible swearing.

We're all about words (and not always the profane ones) and labour at Aardvark Cottage, so I while I was cursing and scrubbing I got thinking about the etymology of the expression "elbow grease". Sounds like it might have a colourful story, doesn't it? I imagined the phrase being some "Olde English" reference to putting some poultice made of pig fat on your poor aching elbows after a long day vigorously rubbing the family silver (you'll note I didn't say "jewels").

Before moving house our 2 volume Oxford English Dictionary went to live at the Pale Historian's office (wouldn't want anything untoward happening to the OED, would we?) and it hasn't come home yet. The Pale Historian dreams of one day owning the whole 20 volume OED. Mind you, to keep him happy we will need to build a hermetically sealed library to house it and it could only be viewed wearing cotton gloves!

Without the OED to refer to I took to the internets and to my disappointment I couldn't find anything interesting about "elbow grease", save a reference to it being mentioned in 1670 meaning "hard rubbing". But as often happens when you're wandering throughout the internets you can find (well, fall into and I'll be here a while) wonderful things like this site...look up "rule of thumb"...times have changed!


  1. I've heard the origins of the "rule of thumb" before, and yes, times have changed!

    Loved the line, "barely audible swearing." Kudos to you for keeping it barely audible!

  2. Thank goodness! I have a rule of thumb in my classroom but only for choosing a book that is good for a kid to read. Choose a whole page of text- start reading for every word you stumble on put down a finger. If you are down to your thumb that book is a bit too challenging for the child to read. No fingers down it is too easy (Unless the purpose is pure idle enjoyment, I don't always challenge myself to read 'hard stuff' always and there's a time and a place for a 'holiday' read!)