Saturday, April 13, 2013


Kelly Croff wrote,  “You can put a belt on your pants, belt a homerun or someone in the face, or take a belt of liquor. Where did the word belt come from, and why so many different uses?”

The core word belt came from the Latin balteus, which meant a girdle. The reason for the multiplicity of meanings is that the word is used literally and figuratively. In other words, it has been applied to many types of straps or strips with various uses, but it has also been applied to features or situations that bear a fanciful resemblance to a strap or strip – the Bible Belt or an asteroid belt, for instance.

Lining up some of the literal applications, we find
  • a flat strip of leather or other material used to bind articles of clothing or to support articles of use or ornament
  • an article worn as a symbol of proficiency, such as a Black Belt in martial arts
  • a broad, flat rubber strap passing around a wheel or shaft and used to move articles
  • a number of cartridges linked to one another used to feed ammunition into a machine gun
  • reinforcing material beneath the tread of a tire
Turning to some of the figurative uses, we find
  • a tract or land or a district that is wider than it is long, such as the Bible Belt or the green belt surrounding a city
  • a heavy blow, such as a belt to the mouth
  • a slang term for drinking, as in a belt of bourbon
  • slang for vigorous singing, such as belting out a song
  • slang for to hurry or rush, as in we belted down the road as fast as we could
  • an encircling route, such as The Beltway
The word belt shows up in a number of common sayings, including to hit below the belt, to tighten one’s belt, to get something under one’s belt, and belt it, which was a predecessor to zip it!

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

Nook edition
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