sledgehammer

Many who were around in 1986 will hear Peter Gabriel with this word. But with or without his song of the name, this is a word of weight and motion. Hear the rhythm: a slam that holds two full beats, then a second slam with a third on on the last off-beat. Like pounding a large mallet, say, on a surface and bouncing it once… twice thrice. But this compound word does join two different pieces, even if they are both weighty. Both start voiceless, but sledge has that sliding or swooshing sound of sl and then a jamming-in voiced affricate with dge, while hammer has softer consonants (ironic, isn’t it, that hammock, with its harder ending, names such a soft thing while hammer names such a hard one?) but a more aggressive because more open stressed vowel. Sledge has ascenders and a descender spiking it, too, while hammer is flat after the opening ascender. This word’s object is something that pounds home, not just once but again and again, and so it is fitting that this word pounds home twice, not only in form but in sense: one might as well say drillbore or stoveheater. Sledge, you see, in this word, comes from Old English slecg (pronounced just the same as the modern word), and means “large, heavy hammer.” It comes from the same root, way back, as slay, which first meant “smite, strike, beat,” and then just got worse. But there was – and is – another sledge, which comes from Middle Dutch sleedse and refers to a sled or similar conveyance made of a small platform with runners. So to be clear that one is not demolishing a house with a Flexible Flyer (which would be more of a sled jammer), the hammer is added – another Teutonic word that has really always referred to, well, a hammer, and hasn’t changed very much in form over the ages.

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