Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Query About Quarry

Sylvia wrote, “I grew up near Rogers City, the location of a huge limestone quarry. At the same time, my Uncle Henry, who was an avid hunter, used to refer to the quarry that he was going to kill when he went hunting. It confused me then and it still does, so I’m glad I stumbled across your program. Can you clear this up for me?”

One of the more confusing things about language is that words that end up with identical spellings can have absolutely no connection to each other, either in origin or meaning. Such is the case here.

In one case, quarry is a surface excavation where stone is removed for building or construction purposes. It owes its existence to a Latin word that meant to square off. Blocks of quarry material are cut, blasted, or otherwise removed, then refined into squareness.

In the other case, quarry refers to prey, an animal pursued and taken in a hunt. Originally, it designated the chunks of meat taken from an animal and given to the hounds as a reward for their work. The meat was placed on the deer’s hide, and that’s where this quarry came from – a Latin word meaning an animal hide.

To further complicate things, quarry can also refer to a small diamond-shaped pane of glass. Occasionally, the pane can be square, so we’re back to the first Latin word mentioned above.

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