A wonderful NY Times story by Caroline H. Dworin describes the Putnam Rolling Ladder Company, its 80-year history and charmingly antiquated practices (“the hanging sign outside is now completely black, its letters faded off. It used to be attached to Putnam’s horse-drawn buggy, but having gotten rid of the actual buggy, Gregg says, the Monseeses used its sign for their store”). For a newspaper story, it’s damn well written:
The silent third floor hides a deep forest of ladders, ladders leaning against one another, stacked 10 feet deep along each wall and stretching high in the air. There are dozens upon dozens of ladders, so many that there should be a collective noun for such things: a timber of ladders, a bosque.
By the fourth floor, a stillness begins to settle, a cold, uncanny hush. A hand dragged across the stairwell’s plaster here comes up dirt-black. The floor is a sea of cardboard barrels filled with fixtures, some a half-century old: nuts, bolts, braces, casters. When struck by the little light that makes it through the filthy windows, the contents of the newest barrels shine gold, and mountains of brass-plated ladder bolts twinkle like the treasure of some mechanically bent pirate king.
The fifth floor remains most desolate. For a person left alone here, the stone-cold quiet becomes vaguely terrifying. An employee once confided that by the time he reaches the fifth floor, he sometimes feels he must stop at the top of the stairs and call out. He has never heard anyone answer; it’s really just the comfort of his own voice.
And (I know you were waiting for me to get around to this) it uses a word that presents some linguistic interest: “A ladder usually costs $1,000 to $2,000, and it takes 8 to 10 weeks to make. But to accommodate patrons’ rarer requests for African mahogany, anegre or zebrawood, the Monseeses have a different time scale. Anegre, for instance, is a ‘no time limit’ wood.” Naturally, I tried looking up anegre, but it wasn’t in any of my dictionaries. So I turned to Google, and got a lot of hits from wood sites on the order of “Anegre hardwoods, Anegre wood supplier, wholesale Anegre, importers, distributors, buyers.” But the fourth hit had the precious addition Aningeria superba, so I googled that and discovered common names are aningre and anigre, both of which get significantly more Google hits than anegre. My initial guess is that those are the earlier forms, and that anegre was created to avoid the possible unpleasantness associated with the -nig- form. But I’d love to hear from anyone who knows the history of this ligneous lexeme.