It’s a cinch

The last two posts dealt with descendents of the Latin verb cingere, whose senses included ‘to bind, gird, encompass, enclose.’ From the root of that verb the Romans created the diminutive noun cingulum, which meant in general ‘a band that someone puts around something.’ Specific meanings included ‘a sword-belt, a dog’s collar,’ and ‘a saddle girth.’ Latin cingulum evolved to Spanish cincho, which can be ‘a belt; a sash; a reinforcement placed around a barrel or even a building; the tire of a wheel.’ Alongside cincho Spanish has the doublet ceño, which is ‘a ring around something,’ and in particular ‘a circle around the upper part of a horse’s hoof.’

The feminine version of Spanish cincho, cincha, passed into English as cinch, whose most literal meaning is ‘a girth for a pack or saddle.’ The practice of using strong girths led to the secondary sense ‘a tight grip.’ People came to think of something that can be gripped tightly as both an easy thing and a sure thing, both of which are extended senses of cinch.

Biologists use the original Latin cingulum for ‘a girdle-like part of an organism; a band or zone of color.’

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman


6 Comments (+add yours?)

    Jul 07, 2013 @ 13:49:13

    I always wondered about a “cinch” being something easy. After all, to “ease up [or off]” means to slacken. My sewing teacher said “ease” in a garment means a loose fit and I’m just reminded by checking the New Oxford American Dictionary that an easy woman is a loose one. But your explanatlon — a sure (secure) thing is easy to rely on — makes sense.


  2. shoreacres
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 14:04:39

    And somewhere along the line, “girth” came to designate a person of substantial proportions. Ladies with a large girth would attempt to cinch themselves up with girdles, and even young 1950s and 1960s girls got in on the act. As I recall, it took a very tight grip to get into those rubber contraptions – a process that was neither easy nor sure!

    WordSnooper’s comment reminds me that, back in the very, VERY old days, a girl who was discovered in gym class or at an overnight to have foregone a girdle could raise an eyebrow or two. The implication of “looseness” was there.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 07, 2013 @ 14:20:55

      Your first sentence reminded me that some people used to refer to John Adams disparagingly as “His Rotundity” (along the lines of “His Majesty”).

      I like your wording: “a process that was neither easy nor sure!” Thanks for your female take, from recollections about a long-gone era, on girdles and the perceived looseness of not wearing one.


  3. Jim in IA
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 12:37:00

    I did not know about this blog. ‘It’s a cinch’ I will fasten my saddle and follow.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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