Saturday, March 12, 2011

My finial is filial

When I first opened my door for business, occasionally someone would walk in off the street to ask me to make something for them.   Often this was a bizarre experience because I speak the language of my profession and it‘s foreign to the casual customer.  Undaunted, I would end up drawing things in the shop dust with a scrap of steel or crawling all over the racks and under the tables for examples of what I was talking about.  This makes me sound a lot more graceful than I am.  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.  And yes, I am even less graceful than that.  Anyway, as part of my pig-headed determination to educate the world and, of course, enlighten them all at once, I would use my vocabulary like a club.  What good is it if you can’t beat someone with it?  I would blather on about gauge this and alloy that and ….pa pa patina, and on and on.  Truly, age does have gigantic advantages when it comes to some things.  Reason being primary with ego shrinking running a close second.  Mostly these casual customers would humor me or earnestly try to communicate in my language, but there was one that sticks out in my mind for her dogged determination to ignore my attempt to correct her.  I’m pretty sure that this is because she was using the entirely incorrect word.    

And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

She came in to get a drapery rod for her living room.  If you can believe it, I actually advertised in the Yellow Pages.  Now that I think about it, that’s probably how they all found me.  What she wanted was a rod, some brackets, the appropriate number of rings (I’m told by designers that the number is one for every seven inches of fabric) and, as she put it, a nice pair of filials.  Yep, even spell check knows that’s not right.  . . . . “Okay, so you need a 120” rod (The appropriate diameter to span the distance, of course. ) two brackets,  34 rings and a pair of finials.”  . . .  She said, “Yes and I want the filials to look like leaves.” . . . . . . . . This went on for a while and finally she won.  I gave up and sold her two lovely leaf filials.  

But, as you have probably guessed by now, this got me thinking about the word finial and not to be forgotten filial.  I have begun to wonder if it is possible to have leaf filials or if in fact they would be leaves filials. 
So finial is pretty straight forward.  The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English (I know, it is hard to believe that there are this many dictionaries out there, and that I can find them. ) defines finial as a distinctive ornament at the apex of a roof, pinnacle, canopy, or similar structure in a building or as an ornament at the top, end, or corner of an object as in ornate curtain poles with decorative finials.  Pole, rod, I always mess that up.  The Online Etymology Dictionary says it originated in the mid fifteenth century and was a variant of final.

Filial, on the other hand, does not have anything to do with an apex of any sort.  You know what though, I have no idea what the dictionary means on this one.  It looks like it’s from Latin and also that . . . yeah, I have no idea.  But there is a bit about affiliation.  I like that.  Anyway, filial has to do with sons and daughters in Latin.  My daughters are not Latin so it probably doesn’t apply to them.  I could put the entire definition of filial here with the bit about breast feeding and whence but I figure I’m just going to put the link.

Good luck with that and enjoy.  

I never did find out if it was leaf or leaves filials.  Oh well.

Now back to work……

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hardware the hard way.

Recently I accompanied my parents on a trip to a Financial Planner.   They seem to find this sort of outing entertaining or perhaps enlightening.  I find it painful.  I can think of a whole list of better ways to spend my time, but there I was.  The enforcer or protector or whatever my role was supposed to be.  I perform this role when asked.  The problem, though, is that somehow I always get dragged into the game.  So, as I was sitting there reading the pamphlet and listening to the pitch, I was sucked in.  The Planner, innocently enough, asked what I do for a living or something to that effect.  This is a simple question with a complex answer.  I punted.  I said I make hardware.  I figure most people know what that is so it’s a safe answer.  Nope.  So I got to watch the look of admiration turn to disgust when I disabused Mr. Planner of the idea that I make computers and instead make door knobs and drapery rods.   The session got weirder when he asked if I did beige.  Beige what?  Hardware of course.  Are we still talking about computers?  Nope.  Believe it or not we were talking about cabinet hardware.  Hmmmm…….okay most people address function or form before color but…….Mr. Planner only buys beige.              .   .   .   .   .   .   .          The whole episode was disturbing. 

Anyway it got me thinking about the word hardware.  So off I went to do some research.  I decided to pull out my dictionary this time mostly because I couldn’t find much satisfactory information online.  It was all that hard + ware stuff.  Yeah, you think it’s the information age but some information is still in books.  On page 523 of my Webster’s Dictionary there is a very nice drawing of a Harlequin and four definitions for hardware.  The first is . . . fittings, cutlery, tools, utensils, or parts of machines made of metal.  Nothing there about beige, but not exactly what I was thinking.  The second wasn’t exactly what I thought either . . . major items of military or police equipment or their components.  Okay so far nothing about door knobs or drapery rods.  That sounded more like tanks and other scary stuff.  On to the third definition from Webster’s which is the physical components of a vehicle or an apparatus such as a computer.  Dang.  Just plain disappointing.  The fourth definition doesn’t even matter.  It’s more of the same.  

 It’s too late for me.  My world is crumbling.   

A lesser person than me would probably either admit defeat at this point or proceed with a cover-up.  I, however, am undaunted.  I will ferret out the truth.  Hardware is doorknobs and drapery rods.  

Back to Oxford online where hardware is defined first as tool, machinery and other durable equipment.  Here we go with the tanks again.  Second as the physical components of a computer.  Aaaaaaaaaaah.  And third as tools, implements and other items used in home life and activities such as gardening.   Whaaaa?  I think that might be it though.  Door knobs and drapery are used in home life and they are items.  I’m pretty sure of that. 
I feel better but I have a need to be first.  A third place item just won’t do. 

Ahhhh Google books.  I was led to something called Cognitive Exploration of Language and Linguistics by Rene Driven.  Who else?  And on page 13 Rene says “The compound sign hardware consists of two simple words, hard and ware, which are both arbitrary.”  Tell me you don’t love that.  It is so intensely academic.  Sounds like it means something but doesn’t actually mean anything.  To continue . . . “But the compound is no longer arbitrary because the combination of the two parts leads to a more or less transparent meaning.”  Again, I say, huh?  I’m thinking that the meaning is not so transparent.  As a matter of the moment, I’d say it’s totally opaque.  There’s more . . . “The original meaning of hardware is ‘equipment and tools for the home and garden’.”  Ah hah!  There it is.  The ORIGINAL meaning was door knobs and drapery rods.  I need look no further but there is more.  . . . “This meaning was extended to refer to the machinery and equipment of a computer, and by analogy, the programs running on the computer were called software.”  And there you have it.  Did I mention this passage was about software?  Eh.  

Also, the very first definition at is . . . metalware, as tools, locks, hinges, or cutlery.   Last . . . computers.  

Now I definitely need to get back to work . . .

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Last weekend my daughter was making chocolate chip pancakes for herself for breakfast.  I know what you’re thinking and I have tried to tell her, but she is convinced that gruel is inedible at any time of day.  And apparently it doesn’t matter if eating chocolate chip pancakes first thing in the morning means that you start the day at the pinnacle so the rest is all downhill.  Plus there is the issue of size.  Her pancakes are as big as your head.  Mine are dollar size.  She makes merciless fun of the size of my pancakes.  I figure with small ones you can eat more.  As you can see none of the wisdom of my years is taken very seriously by my child.  By now, I’m pretty sure, you are wondering what any of this has to do with metal.  Nothing except that I love and use cast iron pans which has nothing to do with anything. 

This is about the word flapjack.  Flapjack is a mystery.  Unlike the origin of other terms, I can't find anything on flapjack.  This distresses me.  The Oxford online dictionary defines it as a pancake.  Okay, I get that.  But, why?  For its origin it gives this

from flap ( in the dialect sense 'toss a pancake') + jack

It has some nice links there but that means nothing and it's the best I can find  . . . . sad . . . . .

Next time I will go back to making things and metal.

Back to work. . . .

The Phillips Head Screw

So a couple of weeks ago I was opening a DVD player for a friend to retrieve a disc that had lodged itself inside.  It was put together with Phillips head screws.  A lot of things are.  Anyway, since I wasn’t anywhere near any of my tools I had to use hers.  When she handed me the two screw drivers she had borrowed for the occasion she said “here’s the flat one and here’s the Phyllis head.” . . . . . . . . .  hmmm.   It was a Phyllis head in name only.  Rats had apparently found it appetizing and gnawed most of the drive end off.  I managed to make it work but the situation made me think about the name and shape of the Phillips head screw and driver so I did a little research.   This is what I found.  

The Phillips head screw was named after its inventor.  I know .  Came as a shock to me too.  Anyway, the part that was surprising to me was that there are entire websites dedicated to the history of screws and screw drivers.    I will list some of them below.

Back to the Phillips head screw.  It was invented by Henry F. Phillips (1890–1958) in 1937.  All of the sites agree on this.  Most agree that it became popular because it was self aligning which was an asset on an assembly line.  Unlike previous screw types, driver placement didn’t need to be exact so it sped up the process of assembly.  This makes sense, but for me it also explains why most Phillips head screw drivers look like rats have eaten them.  If the pressure exerted on the driver when driving isn’t correct it bounces around on the screw and gets chewed up, and then if you go too far it jumps around too.  Eh, there is never a perfect solution for every situation.  Anyway, Cadillac was the first company to use the Phillips head screw and then other automobile manufacturers followed.  While the Phillips head screw took over the world Mr. Phillips did not.  He was apparently stripped of his patent and died in obscurity.  Well, at least as obscure as you can die with your name all over almost every screw made. 
Did I mention he was from Portland, Oregon?  I don’t know why that matters but it’s in every description of his invention.  Must have come as a shock to some.  

Here are some links
.      Wikipedia of course.     A fastener company.  This is pretty thorough.     And not to be outdone, the Phillips screw company.  This has it all.  Way more than the average person wants to know about screws.  

Back to work…