Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pommel/Pummel



Craig from Pellston: I saw a headline the other day that read, Sox Pummel Tigers. I know that sportswriters love alliteration and hate to use plain words like defeat, but isn’t this way out there?

A. You’re correct that it means to beat, and I love your comment about sportswriters, but it’s a legitimate word. As just one example, Charles Dickens used it in his novel Great Expectations:

“Then, he and my sister would pair off in such nonsensical speculations about Miss Havisham, and about what she would do with me and for me, that I used to want - quite painfully - to burst into spiteful tears, fly at Pumblechook, and pummel him all over.” So, as a verb it means to beat someone, especially with the fists.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable gives it a French origin--pommeler, to dapple-- because it’s a matter of beating someone black and blue. The OED sees a connection to a word meaning apple.

The noun pummel (also spelled pommel) covers a wide range of objects, but they all have something in common: a bulbous appearance. Here are some of its meanings.

• the ornamental knob on a candlestick
• a finial
• the ornamental top of a flagpole
• the knob at the back end of a cannon
• a cross with knobs at the end of the arms
• the knob at the end of a sword or dagger that keeps it from slipping out of your grasp
• the knob on a saddle used for mounting and dismounting
• a woman’s breast
• the lower side of a closed fist
• in gymnastics, the curved handgrip on a vaulting horse

SIDEBAR: Pummel Peak


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