The obscure word of the week is oarlock

This week’s obscure English word is oarlock. It’s an archaic term for something that holds an oar in place: these days it’s usually called a ‘rowlock’.

Your challenge: write a sentence or two in the comments using this word.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2021


10 thoughts on “The obscure word of the week is oarlock

  1. Good sir. The word “oarlock” is very much in use here on the coast of Maine (the U.S. Maine, not the French one) and I’ve not in fact ever heard the word “rowlock” used, perfectly well-formed and widely used elsewhere though it may be.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t know that – and this is an interesting point which to me shows what an amazing language English can be. It’s ‘rowlock’ in Britain, Australia and NZ. But this would figure: ‘oarlock’ is the older term linguistically, and as Maine was settled a couple of centuries before either Australia or NZ, that makes sense. The usage, as far as I can tell from the etymology, changed in Britain over that period. But not in places it had colonised earlier. To me this is quite fascinating and gives a real depth to the way languages evolve. Good stuff. I wonder how many other words fall into the same sort of category? It would be an interesting study to find out.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve just responded to Richard – it’s quite a fascinating point. I do wonder about the extent to which English is also a way of revealing history, through the terms it leaves in places that were colonised at different times. ‘Oarlock’, as the older term, is used in places Britain influenced a couple of centuries before Australia or NZ, where it’s the newer term ‘rowlock’. Both are valid, of course! To me this really underscores what a fantastic language we have, and how it evolves with time and people. And, really, how it captures history in ways we seldom perceive. I want to know more now – what other words reflect this sort of process?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Another word that I heard (and used) as a child, ca. 65 years ago), is dite,” i.e., “a small amount.” As in” “Is your back still bothering you? “Just a dite.” The auto-corrector was intent on reading the word as “site” or “date.”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dite is a great word – and another with different meanings on each side of the Atlantic (of course I had to look it up!). One of my favourites in NZ English is ‘tutu’. Not the ballet costume. It’s pronounced differently and is a borrow word from Te Reo Maori. It means the same in both languages, ‘to tinker with something, often mischievously’. As in ‘the TV isn’t working’. ‘Did you tutu with it?’

          Like

        1. Yes it is. It’s kind of ironic: remember Esperanto? Zamenhof’s attempt to force a universal language on the world. I think English kind of became that organically. I suspect World War 2 had something to do with that. And the internet, later.

          Like

  2. I’ve never used either word, and as a former youth camping professional I have done I’ve done a fair amount of row boating. I don’t think I’ve ever called them anything at all. Huh. I am delighted to have discovered both words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to be of assistance! English has so many excellent words and it’s always intriguing to me how they can emerge, unexpectedly – and how interesting their origins turn out to be.

      Like

Comments are closed.