The post before last explained that an estípula/stipule is ‘an appendage at the base of petioles or leaves, usually somewhat resembling a small leaf in texture and appearance.’ The original Latin stipula, which was ‘a stalk, stem, blade of grass,’ had arisen as a diminutive of the stipa (or stuppa) that meant ‘the coarse part of flax; tow, oakum (fibers of hemp or jute).’ The ancients used such coarse materials, sometimes soaked in tar or similar substances, to plug the seams in ships to make them seaworthy. Based on that practice, speakers of Vulgar Latin created the verb *stuppare to mean ‘to caulk.’ Many etymologists believe that the early Germanic languages borrowed *stuppare, which in English would have ended up as the modern verb stop, whose earliest meaning was ‘to plug an opening.’ That sense is still alive, as when our ears get stopped up or we use a stopper to plug the opening in the neck of a bottle. From the notion of plugging something up came the additional senses ‘to impede; to prevent further motion; to cease.’

Spanish and other European languages have borrowed English stop. The first two definitions of the word in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española are:

‘Señal de tráfico, adoptada internacionalmente, que indica a los conductores la obligación de detenerse.’

‘Detención que hace un vehículo para obedecer a esta señal. El conductor hizo el stop.’

And with that, I’d better stop.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 08:16:44

    Not only the ancients stopped up those seams in the planking! A friend’s son-in-law is a specialist in caulking at the Mystic Seaport Museum, and comes home with oakum-filled clothing on a regular basis. We’ve gotten reports that shaking out the clothing before laundering is critical, lest the washing machine get stopped up!

    And trust me – every time I take on a big caulking job, I end up thinking, “I’ve got to stop doing this!”


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 08:52:37

    I thought about modern you when I put this post together. Maybe you can make a New Year’s resolution to stop stopping (the seams in the planking).


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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