May 18, 2020 ☼ Word of the Day
On paper, plug its supposed to be a one-syllable word. But in reality it sounds like a lop-sided waltz. Puh-lug. Like a planet and its tiny moon. And if we look deeper (and talk slower) it becomes a trio. Puh-luh-guh. Three consonant moons orbiting a sole unstressed vowel.
Any piece of wood, metal, or other substance used to stop or fill a hole; a stopple.
A flat oblong cake of pressed tobacco. [U. S.]
A high, tapering silk hat. [Slang, U.S.]
A worthless horse. [Slang, U.S.]
The meaning of plug is more compact than its phonemes. To keep some liquid in its place. Dutch sailors were probably among the first folks to throw “plug” around.
1620s, originally a seamen’s term, probably from Dutch plug, Middle Dutch plugge “bung, stopper,” related to Norwegian plugg, Danish pløg, North Frisian plaak, Middle Low German pluck, German Pflock; of uncertain etymology. Etymonline
After two centuries of making sure barrels behaved, the plug got a promotion.
In 1860 the combustion engine was invented, and with it, the spark plug. A spark plug doesn’t stop water. It summons fire. Specifically, it shepherds an electric spark into a pressurized piston chamber, bringing an engine to life.
And this life-giving meaning of plug persists today. Isn’t modern life just the endless yearning to plug in stuff? Lamps, curling irons, and stereos? Plugs are the plastic-coated clunks that allow even the most basic among us to Wield Lightning. Like Disney magic, it transforms the inert masses of our commodity fetishism into vibrant, boredom-strangling messengers of light, heat, and sound.
Plugs fill voids, plugs create new worlds. Like the realm of relaxation that rises from a warm bath. Or the cone of attention that surrounds a digital screen. Earplugs enable access to a quiet place wherever you are.
Plugs are also a way out. We “unplug” on beaches to escape our stresses. We plug our self-help book, over and over on podcasts, so that we may sell a million copies and escape our miserable lives in Costa Mesa, CA (for example). We consult with lawyers so our loved ones understand to “pull the plug” when the time comes.
Thanks to a global pandemic, we’ve all stepped into a bizarre new world. Like a leaky barrel on a Dutch sailing ship, we are trying desperately to stem the flow of disease but so far no plugs to fit this hole.
I can’t wait to unplug. From Zoom, from digital reality, from the host of human-made problems that plugs exist to solve. When it is time to travel again, you’ll find me in the places where plugs don’t reach.