Sunday, February 28, 2010

Glebe & Clod

Bouncing around in a shuttle bus during my recent foray to Washington, D.C., I noticed a street named Glebe Road. A decades-old memory, perhaps from a Middle English Literature course, told me that a glebe was a clod of dirt. What an odd name for a street, I thought. Dirt Road -- inhabited by clodhoppers?

Quick and dirty research (I’m still on the road, away from my resources) reveals that glebe land was once property distributed to a parish or to an Anglican rector for him to rent out to cover expenses. Perhaps Glebe Road in the D.C. area has an ecclesiastical history.

My rat’s-nest of a mind then wondered about the link between clod and clot. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, clod now refers to a lump of earth or clay forming a solid mass, but its original meaning (14th century) was concerned with coagulating blood. In time, the words branched off, so that now we speak of a clot of blood, but a clod of earth.

At the core is a root that means a rounded ball. It also shows up in clew, a coiled ball (as in a clew of yarn), in the obsolete cloud (a mass of earth or clay), and in cleat, which originally was a wedged mass or clump.

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

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