Thursday, January 18, 2007


Q. I’m a big fan of Patrick O’Brian. He sometimes uses a term that I’m not familiar with: slab-sided. What can you tell me about that adjective?
Bob/Glen Arbor

Though there isn’t unanimity about where the word came from, we all know that a slab is a flat, thick, and broad piece of material, like the slabs of marble used on the face of a public monument. There is agreement that slab-sided involves having long, flat sides, and when applied colloquially to a person, it means that he or she is tall, slim, and lanky.

But the description isn’t confined to humans. It also applies to a wide range of objects: sailing ships, guns, chickens, dogs, fish, horses, cars, flat irons, and so on, as the following real-life examples will show.

Example 1: “The descendants of the Cape Ann Dory are still raced as the Town Class. Due to their 'V'-shaped hulls, dories have a tendency to heel sharply at first, especially those which were more slab-sided than rounded.”

Example 2: Scottish deerhound standards: “Chest deep rather than broad but not too narrow or slab-sided. Good girth of chest is indicative of great lung power. The loin well arched and drooping to the tail.”

Example 3: “Prof Clauss said that his team's research would help naval architects in their efforts to construct ships and oil platforms that were capable of withstanding such freak wave forces. In many cases it is as simple as building a bridge on a ship that is not slab-sided but rounded, so it can cope with being hit by a monster wave.”

Example 4: “Herring: species of slab-sided, northern fish belonging to the family Clupeidae (order Clupeiformes).”

Example 5: "1919 Rowenta iron, German y: Second Rowenta iron, first Rowenta travelling iron. Flat, slab-sided sole-plate (no cowl), nickel-plated. Removable, sculptured varnished wooden hoop handle. Individual marble flex connectors. Packaged in leather case."

Example 6: “The current CTS and STS are sharp edged but not slab sided, as they have sharp lines running through the side bodywork. What I actually meant by slab-sided was the fact that the side is essentially a rectangular box in shape. I feel like it could use more curvaceous lines, like a shoulder line that fell as it reaches the rear wheel, and then kicks up again. It would make the car look more interesting, I guess, and less 1990s-Eldorado-rectangular in shape.”

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