Saturday, March 12, 2011


The idea of plugging a product—repeatedly promoting it, sometimes shamelessly—came up on the show last Tuesday. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it has gone through many meanings.
The verb started as a Dutch word meaning “to fasten with a plug,” and that sense of stopping something up with a plug is how it entered the English language. Next, it meant to drive a wedge into a wall to help secure a nail or screw.
That was followed by cutting a cylindrical core from a watermelon, for example, to test its ripeness. The idea of sealing an oil well or other shaft was the next step in the evolution of the word plug.
Then came a cluster-flurry of diverse meanings:
  • to stick or jam, as a golf ball that plugs in soggy ground
  • to make an electrical connection
  • to insert data into a formula or a computing device
  • to shoot someone
  • to punch someone
In the middle of the 19th century, we get closer to the idea of promotion with this meaning: “to persevere doggedly; to plod.” Within 30 or so years, to plug away at a task worked its way into “to promote or to recommend,” then to “to give free publicity to.”
I don’t quite understand the jump from a stopper/wedge/plug to steady work, but perhaps that’s because I’m thinking of my granddaughters right now, who live near Tokyo. That was one hell of an earthquake.

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

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