Daily Archives: January 19, 2009


Actually two different words. No, I don’t mean t+hole, though those who know it as a term for an oarlock might wonder whether this is its origin. Rather, it is a noun and a verb, and the two are quite unrelated in sense and source. The form of the word immediately brings hole to the eye, and the word can be pronounced with the lips rounded from start to finish (though it would be more normal to round them after th), making it even more holey, but the noun’s referent is rather what one puts into a hole: a peg. In particular, if there are a pair of them, they may be seen stuck in the side of a boat holding the oar between them. It can be any of a variety of other pegs, too, but most notably one holding shaft to axle in a cart, or the projecting handle on a scythe. The sound also brings sole and soul to mind, but with the softness of lisping. None of this is likely to make one expect the verb to signify two senses that can both be rendered also by suffer: the first “bear, endure,” and the second “allow, give.” One may say small wonder that it’s not much used now, but it’s been recorded in English since the 9th century and was still used often enough in the 19th. Both words come to us from Anglo-Saxon, one from a root relating to trees, the other from a root meaning “bear, suffer” and related to Latin tolerare and tollere. The opening th was once a thorn, but since that glyph has disappeared, we now have an anagram of hotel. Which, unless it’s the sort of hotel you put up with rowing – or scything – at, is also quite excrescent.