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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Word of the Week

In honor of the 80th birthday of The Oxford English Dictionary, I'm doing a word a week (or whenever I get around to it). For more info on the OED, check out my first WOW.

This week's word represents a state in which I often find myself:

HAYWIRE

The dictionary specifically links this expressiong to us good ole Americans (and, I assume, that includes the Americans north of the lower 48, too, among whom I have many relations). By that, they mean to distinguish it from, let's say, British or Australian English...
According to my sources, the expression derives literally from the wire used to hold hay bales together. My husband, who's of an age and background to remember this, vouches for the difficulty and care one had to take when using it. In fact, before the advent of nylon cord, he says you used to see hay wire draped over fence posts, left by farmers who opened bales for feed. If the same location was used year after year, lengths of wire would accumulate on the post. Being a city girl, I had to ask why the farmer didn't just take the wire with him and throw it away, and my husband had to explain patiently that the poor guy was in the middle of nowhere and there were no trash cans around. Duh...

As language goes, I guess this is a relatively new expression. It dates from 1905 and originally meant “poorly-equipped or makeshift." Turns out this wire was particularly popular in New England lumber camps where it was used for jerry-rigging anything and everything. The phrase “haywire outfit” came to mean a camp that was ill-equipped and always short of supplies.

The word developed its current meaning because the wire was springy and difficult to control us the sense of “go haywire” or, as I often do... go crazy.
So...any of you gone haywire lately?

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13 Comments:

Blogger Writer and Cat said...

Poorly equipped, huh? I think my life is haywire!

Jody W.

October 29, 2008 at 7:34 AM  
Blogger Annie Solomon said...

I'm not surprised, although I'm sure meankitty would beg to differ. But I think "haywire" is SOP with most writers. How else explain all those people running around in our heads?

October 29, 2008 at 8:49 AM  
Blogger Marie-Nicole Ryan said...

Haywire lately? How about all the time.

I love your using word derivations. I wish I had something terribly interesting to write about on my blog. Currently I have blogger's block.

October 29, 2008 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Annie Solomon said...

LOL! Blogger's Block made me laugh. Not AT you--but WITH you. At least I hope you're laughing. I can think of a bunch of things I'd like to know about. How you lost all that weight, for one. What it was like being a nurse, for two. What's your favorite color, food, music, pasttime, etc. and why. If you had a treasure chest filled with anything you want, what would be in it? Hmm...those sound good enough for me to blog on, too, one of these days.

October 29, 2008 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Interesting. I'd never really thought about this one before. The one and only time I ever hauled hay, the bales were baled with grass string, I believe.

October 29, 2008 at 4:53 PM  
Blogger Annie Solomon said...

According to my sources, the wire went out when cord came in. Don't know what grass string is. Is it made of grass? Sounds interesting, but I'm not sure "going grass string" resonates in the same way...

October 29, 2008 at 8:12 PM  
Blogger clynsg said...

I also am of an age to remember wire for hay bales (actually much MORE of an age) & I remember my father & brother coming in after helping with the family baling & having very sore hands, despite heavy gloves, from grabbing & hoisting bales. You don't see too many of that size bale anymore, most farmers have gone to the huge round bales that require power machinery to move them. There was also a danger if the wire snapped--they were under tension & could do a lot of harm if they hit the wrong thing! As can a human who is 'haywire'!

clynsg at yahoo.com

November 2, 2008 at 9:03 AM  
Blogger Kaye said...

Is this where you sign up for the blog contest? I did read the magic word, chocolates, did i not?

November 2, 2008 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Annie Solomon said...

clynsg: cool that the wire wasn't a figment of my husband's imagination. And that the meaning does correspond to the crazy way the wire could spring! Thanks for adding much needed veracity!

November 2, 2008 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger Annie Solomon said...

kaye--yes, all you have to do is comment during the monthe of November and the collection of hot chocolate could be yours! Make you go haywire?

November 2, 2008 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger Sherry Hobbs said...

Never actually thought about it since I am allergic to hay. LOL

November 2, 2008 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger Annie Solomon said...

You may be allergic to hay, Shery, but do you ever go haywire?

November 2, 2008 at 11:01 AM  
Blogger mishmish said...

Pretty interesting, I never would have guessed.

November 3, 2008 at 10:00 AM  

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