Thursday, August 14, 2008


“It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.” Edgar Guest

While I was channel surfing the other night, I came across a western movie. What caught my attention was a bit of dialogue. A burly cowhand was berating a youngster, and his threat was, “You in a heapa trouble, boy!”

The word heap jumped out at me for some reason. It comes from an Anglo-Saxon word that meant a pile. It seems to be connected to a Sanskrit word, kaofa, which meant “a great heap” -- in other words, a mountain.

There are some interesting verbs that express the concept of piling things up.

• accumulate: to heap up
• acervate: to heap up
• aggerate: to heap up obs.
• coacervate: to heap up
• congrumate: to gather into heaps obs.
• cumulate: to gather in a heap

For various reasons, it was customary to pile stones (or other materials) in a heap. They were sometimes given colorful names.

• bing
• cairn
• carnell
• entassment
• mammock
• nuraghe
• ruckle
• slump
• tass
• tor

Idiomatically, you can be at the top or the bottom of the heap, and you may run the risk of being thrown on the scrap heap or the rubbish heap. If you are extremely disconcerted, you are struck all of a heap, but you can retaliate by heaping burning coals on your enemy’s head. [Proverbs xxv, 21-22]


Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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