Saturday, October 24, 2009

Steve Odor

Finally, now that I’m once again in the swing of posting regularly, I can offer this: a word of the week. I’ve chosen this one based on the fact that I’m currently watching The Wire, after years of hearing nothing but good things about it from everyone whose taste I trust. I’m now in the second season, which takes place largely in the Baltimore port and which makes use of a synonym for longshoreman that I’d never heard before.
stevedore (STEE-və-dohr) — noun: : one who works at or is responsible for loading and unloading ships in port
Something about this word amuses me, possibly because I imagine a lot of dock workers being named Steve. In fact, there’s probably more than a few stevedores named Steve out there, and every one of them is probably tired of people pointing out the similarity. I’d say it’s in everyone’s best interest not to point it out, because among the many things I have learned from The Wire is that you shouldn’t go around pissing off dock workers. They’ll fuck you up.

Similarities aside, the word stevedore doesn’t seem to have a direct relationship to the name Stephen, which comes from Greek and means “crown” or “garland.” Instead, stevedore comes to English from the Spanish for “one who loads cargo,” estibador — which, also happens to sounds like Estiban, the Spanish version of the name Stephen, and probably makes working life hard for a certain number of Spanish dockworkers. Estibador comes from the verb estibar, “to stow cargo,” which in turn comes from the Latin verb stipare, meaning “pack down” or “press” and related to the English word stiff.

Because I’ll probably never again discuss dockworkers on this blog, I’d also like to point out that looking into stevedore led me to the etymology of longshoreman as well. I’d always wondered exactly how that long fit into the term and why it seemed to imply that these people were long in some way. Not what it means. The word is simply a slight contraction of alongshore, as in “these guys work along the shore.”

One more thought on the second season of The Wire, though not word related: I can’t get over how rough Amy Ryan looks. Yes, she looks better than she did in Gone Baby Gone, but she’s not the ray of sunshine that is Holly Flax from The Office. Amy Ryan, stay cleaned up. We like you that way.

Previous words of the week:
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