clobber

Ever been hit on the ear? It sounds sort of like this word. (The word may even look like a promised clobbering: the c, holding the l as a club, sneaking up on the two b‘s from behind to beat them…) But of course there are many other words that sound sort of like this word, too: blubber, slobber, clubber, clapboard (pronounced the “old” way), lobster, glibber… Certainly the opening consonant makes some difference: the s in slobber is sloppy while the c in clobber is more percussive. It’s that opening stop that keeps this word from sounding flabby. And the spread of the voicelessness onto the l as we say it could be said to give a sense of motion. Naturally, it sounds rather akin to club, too. Perhaps that’s why, somewhere apparently in the 1940s, this word started being used to refer to beating, defeating, et cetera (bomber pilots seem to have used it first). Before that time clobber had been a word more associated with shoes and clothing: the verb referred to patching up and cobbling, and subsequently to adding enamelled decoration; it in turn may have come from a noun clobber that meant a paste used by cobblers to fill cracks in shoes. Another noun clobber was slang for clothes. All of these showed up in the 19th century, and the clothing one, at least, can still be seen rarely today. And lexicographers aren’t sure where any of them came from. Not the current sense either. Hm!

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