You may find this hard to believe, but when I was young I wanted to be a freelance writer.

I had a copy of the Writer’s Market put out annually by Writer’s Digest – well, OK, my dad had a copy and I used it. There were many magazines that said “No unsolicited manuscripts,” which of course meant there was no way for me to break into them, because they weren’t soliciting manuscripts from me. But then there were the rest, the ones that would take articles or short stories sent over the transom, as it were.

This was before email, so I would send my one good copy with a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to ransom it back. I always hoped my work would make some entrance, perhaps put them in a trance of delight or something, but the truth is that, like nearly everything that comes in over the transom, it tended to get deep-sixed. It seems that going over the transom is no smart way to go about it, generally.

You are familiar with the phrase over the transom, yes? Think of a publisher’s office as having a door with an openable window above the top of it – typically one where the bottom swings in or out. This window is a transom window or transom for short, though transom is first of all the word for the top cross-beam of the door frame – the difference between a transom and a lintel, if you want to maintain one, is that a lintel bears weight such as masonry above it, while a transom has a window or similar above it.

The etymology of transom is disputed, because it has gaps – it was a workman’s term, and workmen often mutate things to suit their tastes while leaving no written record. It comes to us from either Latin transtrum (meaning about the same thing) or Old French traversin ‘crosspiece’ (by way of traversayn and transyn).

The sense of ‘crossbeam’ has also led to transom naming a part of a ship. In that context, the crossbeam is at the back end of a ship. When you look at the back end of a ship, you will generally notice a flat end where the curve of the hull is truncated. This is what is called the transom of a ship now.

So picture, if you will, my adolescence’s deathless (because lifeless) prose going over the transom. Not onto the tiled office floor, but into the deep blue, pages fluttering down one after the other…

4 responses to “transom

  1. Excellent – I love the word transom and enjoyed delving a bit deeper.

  2. …fluttering into obscurity?

    A sad beauty.

    • “apenas entro al rio quedó limpia
      relució como una piedra blanca en la lluvia
      y sin mirar atrás nadó de nuevo
      nadó hacia nunca más hacia morir”
      —Pablo Neruda, Fábula de la sirena y los borrachos

      (as soon as she entered the river she became clean
      she shone like a white stone in the rain
      and without looking back she swam again
      swam towards nevermore swam towards dying)

      • This is a stunning and beautiful reply. Thank you, for touching my day with beauty and introducing me to a new-for-me poet. I’m glad I acted on whim and replied to your post.

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