Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Holly mentioned that she had seen the word “lams” somewhere, and asked about its legitimacy. Today, the singular form shows up most often in the phrase “on the lam,” although it showed up once in the Record-Eagle as, “work release prisoner caught on the lamb.” I’ll bet that he felt sheepish.

On the lam means on the run, in flight, and the phrase showed up in print in the April 1897 issue of Appleton’s Popular Science Monthly: “To do a lam, meaning to run.” Earlier, the word lamming appeared in 1611 as a verbal meaning to beat or to thrash. It’s connected to the verb lambaste. I’m not sure how the meaning shifted from beat to run – maybe the beating feet of a fleeing person? More than likely, there’s no provable connection between the two.

Back to the plural form. There is more than one word with the spelling lam. First of all, it meant a type of fishing net, so there could be more than one. Lams were also pieces of wood in a loom. In both those cases, there could be a plural spelling.

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

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