Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stave Off

A financial news item this week spoke of a company staving off a hostile takeover. Stave caught my eye; it just seems quaint, for some reason.

As a verb, to stave started out meaning to break up a cask, thus destroying its liquid contents. Staves were the narrow pieces of wood placed side by side and secured with metal hoops to form a tub or cask. The noun is related to staff, the stick held in hand as an aid in walking or climbing.

Ben Jonson seems to have been one of the first writers to put the figurative sense of the verb in print. It meant to keep someone back, to repel as if by brandishing a stave.

In related terms, a staver was the rung of a ladder, and a second staver was an energetic person. A staving man was a quarrelsome man, someone addicted to fighting with staves.
In the mid 1800s, staving was a colloquial term meaning very strong, even excessive. Stavy butter had taken on the taste of the cask in which it was stored. (Hence, The Cask of Mantequilla.)

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