The obscure word of the week is pore

look_it_up_T httpwww.clipartpal.comclipart_pdeducationdictionary_10586.htmlThis week’s obscure English word is pore.

It’s not all that obscure – though it’s important not to confuse it with ‘pour’. However, my knowledge of its meanings was poor until I pawed through the full Oxford English Dictionary (second edition) and discovered it that pore is poured full of meaning, as it were – nearly half a page devoted to the origin and many meanings of the word. Of course I’m referring to pore, not pour – and it’d be a poor writer who mixed the two, but I digress. Ahem. Enough of these hilarious homophones.

The verb form of ‘pore’ means to look at something, usually a book or written material, with intensity and fixed intention. It is an exceptionally old word, but the origins of this particular spelling are obscure. Geoffrey Chaucer used it, spelt ‘poure’, but by the fourteenth century it had become ‘powre’. The current spelling emerged in the eighteenth century. At that time, another meaning also emerged for the word; eyes half-shut, or to peer at something with half-closed eyes – with the same spelling.

The noun form means a minute hole or pit; and – in obsolete terms – is also the matter extruded from a broken bone.

It’s a long and interesting history, as so many English words are. And, of course, it’s a completely different word from ‘pour’. That word can mean to ‘cause to flow in a steady stream’ (typically a liquid, but conceptually including any steady flow such as information, for example) but also means to ‘show one’s feelings in an unrestrained way’, as in ‘pouring derision’.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018

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