Saturday, July 25, 2009


I forget the context or the point that was being made, but for some reason the word crib came up recently. There was immediate recognition that the word has many meanings, but it wasn’t until I looked in the Oxford English Dictionary that I discovered how wide-ranging its meanings have been over the centuries.

It probably came from a Germanic word that meant a basket, and that may have been a descendant of the Latin corbis, a basket. Cratch and crèche are related. Originally, it was a rack that held fodder for horses and cattle in a stable, and as the manger (F. to eat), it has become a key symbol in the Christmas story.

Here are some other meanings attached to the word.

• The stall of an ox.
• A small habitation, cabin, hovel; a narrow room; fig. a confined space.
• A dwelling-house, shop, public-house, etc. [thieve’s slang]
• A lock-up; a jail.
• A saloon, ‘low dive’, or brothel.
• A small rectangular bed for a child, with barred or latticed sides.
• By transference, a child or baby.
• A close-fisted person, one who keeps a tight hold of what he has.
• A wickerwork basket, pannier, or the like.
• The bin used in hop-picking.
• A crate or measure of glass.
• An apparatus like a hay-rack in which the salt is placed to drain after boiling.
• A wickerwork contrivance for catching salmon.
• A framework of bars or spars for strengthening, support, etc.
• In mining, a framework of timber, etc., lining a shaft, to prevent the earth from caving in, or water from trickling through.
• A rectangular frame of logs or beams strongly fastened together and secured under water to form a pier, dam, etc.; sometimes including the superstructure raised upon it.
• A small raft of boards or staves to be floated down a small stream, a number of which are made up into a large raft.
• A bin or place with sparred or slatted sides for storing Indian corn.
• The set of cards made up of two (or one) thrown out from each player's hand, and given to the dealer, in the game of cribbage.
• The act of ‘cribbing’; a petty theft.
• Something ‘cribbed’ or taken without acknowledgement, as a passage from an author; a plagiarism.
• A translation of a classic or other work in a foreign language, for the illegitimate use of students.
• A complaint or grumbling.

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

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