SPUDGER.

My attention was just called to the word “spudger,” which Wikipedia defines as “a wiring tool used for poking or adjusting small wires or components, generally in the electronics and telecommunications industries.” Since it’s not in any of my dictionaries, not even the OED, I assumed it must be a brand-new word, but then I checked Google Books and found it in the Records and Briefs of the United States Supreme Court: John J. Manning and Caleb J. Norwood, appellants, vs. The Cape Ann Isinglass and Glue Company, Charles W. Parker, and James B. Rowe, filed Sept. 1, 1880, p. 15 (reproducing a deposition from 1877):

Int. 8. In the manufacture of isinglass prior to the time when scrapers were introduced, permanently adjusted to the rolls, how was it customary to prevent the isinglass being burnt by accumulation upon the surface of the rolls and passing through between the rolls several times?
Ans. They used a stick, made round at one end, for a handle to hold on to, and sharp at the other end, like a wedge, with a piece of steel or iron put on to it so to make it hard and not batter up when coming in contact with the rolls; with that they would dig the accumulated matter from the rolls. The above stick was known or called by isinglass manufacturers a “spudger.”

Could it be related to the antiquated slang phrase spudge around ‘exert oneself’? Here’s a quote from the unsigned “My Mother’s Slang” in the August 1920 issue of Scribner’s, p. 246: “The next phrase to be added to my collection … was the phrase ‘spudge around’ … Again I could hardly believe my eyes when the dictionary passed obliviously from spud (not a potato at all but a spear) to spue. ‘Spudge’ was one of my mother’s favorite and most forceful words, frequently used in the hope of accelerating our dressing in the morning.” Note that the author had the same fruitless recourse to the dictionary that I did; both slang and obscure technical terms are excellent examples of the kind of item lexicographers are likely to overlook, showing the absurdity of considering even very large dictionaries as exhausting the lexical resources of a language.

Comments

  1. I wonder if it comes somehow from spatula? In my experience, it’s one of those words people in computer hardware tech seem to know because you always need one to pull apart things, but otherwise it’s unknown.

  2. make it hard and not batter up when coining in contact with the rolls
    Shouldn’t that be ‘coming in contact’?

  3. Oops, bad OCR: I thought I fixed all those, but I missed that one. Thanks, I’ll fix it.

  4. Someone elseblog recently suggest using “spud” as minced oath.
    Not that it matters, but it amused me.

  5. minced oath
    I thought that was an ingredient in baby müsli ?

  6. spherical says:

    languagehat wrote: “[...] both slang and obscure technical terms are excellent examples of the kind of item lexicographers are likely to overlook, showing the absurdity of considering even very large dictionaries as exhausting the lexical resources of a language.”
    As a translator who regularly deals with obscure technical matters, I could not agree more.

  7. Graham Asher says:

    Looks like it’s just a variant or extension of spud (sense 3a in the SOED): A digging or weeding implement resembling a spade with a narrow chisel-shaped blade. M17.

  8. ” Since it’s not in any of my dictionaries, not even the OED”…
    You’ll find it in Macmillan Dictionary online where it was added in an update a few months ago (though you might have to wait a little longer for spudge around to put in an appearance)

  9. Well done, Macmillan!

  10. mollymooly says:

    Onelook leads me to Wordnet, which quotes Wiktionary and the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia (1909 supplement p.1206) “An implement for tamping, stirring, or mixing.”
    I would suggest it’s related to “spud”.

  11. Well done! Why didn’t I think of Onelook? And my respect for the Century Dictionary is increased yet again; it’s a pity it didn’t become established like M-W.

  12. In a sense, the successor of the Century is OED1. Murray worked directly from it to make sure he wasn’t missing anything, and his page targets were in the form “N times as many pages as the Century”, for varying values of N.

  13. In an un-American sense. The Century should have been our Shorter Oxford.

  14. Chris Hunt says:

    In our household, “spudger” is the name given to a potato-masher – a combination of “spud” and “plunger”, I suppose.
    I wouldn’t want to use one to poke around any of my electronic kit with on though.
    q.v. “to spudge” verb meaning to mash potatoes.

Speak Your Mind

*