Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

Dock is an interesting word. One of its meanings is a coarse, weedy herb that was once a popular antidote for nettle stings. As dock was rubbed over the sting, one was supposed to chant, “Nettle in, dock out, Dock in, nettle out, Nettle in, dock out, Dock rub nettle out.” Ah, tradition.

Dock was also the solid fleshy part of an animal’s tail. (By extension, it also once designated human buttocks.) To this day, horses and dogs are often docked; a portion of the tail is amputated, often simply for breed standard. Your paycheck can be docked, too.

The dock that first occurs to most of us is the maritime dock, a structure with floodgates used to hold a ship under repair. Originally, this was simply a hollow made in the sand by a boat at low tide. Dock can also refer to a wharf or a pier. Unfortunately, as part of a marketing campaign, a Florida company gave the name dockominium to privately owned mooring spaces.

By extension of meaning of the last item, docks are also recharging stations for electronic devices. What with cell phones, iPods, digital cameras and so on, there’s a whole lotta dockin’ goin’ on.

Dock also means the enclosure in a criminal court where the person on trial must sit during proceedings. At one point in history, all the people to be tried on a given day were herded to a large dock to await their turn. Appropriate, since that dock came from a Flemish word meaning a hutch for rabbits or a cage for fowl.

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