Thursday, October 13, 2011


Roberta wrote that she was watching a show on the Food Channel and caught a reference to the tang of a knife. She has always associated tang with a pungent taste, and wonders what the commentator meant.

The word tang has many different meanings. In spite of all the variations, tang1 definitions have one thing in common: a projecting point. The tang of a chef’s knife is that unsharpened lower end of the blade that is encased in the handle. Other tools also have a tang; think of a chisel or a file or a sword. A full tang provides strength to the instrument and provides better balance when grasped in the hand.

Other definitions of tang1 found in the Oxford English Dictionary include the tongue of a serpent, the sting of an insect, a pang of grief, the prong of a fork or an antler, the barb of a hook, the root of a fang or tree branch, a piece of superfluous metal found in a metal casting, a penetrating flavor or odor (often disagreeable, which makes me wonder why they named the orange drink powder Tang™), and a trace or touch of something.

There are four other tangs, all with separate derivations:

  • the ringing note produced when a bell or piece of metal is struck with force, or a tense string is sharply plucked
  • a coarse seaweed
  • the Madagascar hedgehog
  • the dynasty that ruled China from 618 to 906 C.E.

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

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