Wednesday, February 05, 2014


Doug from Traverse City asked about the word pigeonhole. As a verb, it means the tactic of dumping an idea or a person into a limited type or category—usually unilaterally. The effect is to  marginalize someone, to stymie him or her, to render the person unable to act effectively.

The original pigeonhole was a small recess or compartment occupied by a roosting domestic pigeon. The setting was usually a loft or a rooftop walk-in cage. The word was also applied to a small door used by pigeons entering their enclosure.

By analogy, the noun was used to describe open compartments set on top of a desk. They were used to sort and store mail, business documents, etc. This intensified the concept of a person or an idea being set aside, compartmentalized, put on indefinite time out.

At various times, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, pigeonhole also referred to an excessively wide space between two words, a cubicle or small subdivision of a room, or a seat in the top row of a theater gallery.

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

Nook edition

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