yarringle

We use words to spin many a yarn. But a word, in turn, spins yarns around it: all the uses and places and users and senses it’s had, wound or twisted or balled up and ready to be ravelled for revelry or pulled piecemeal for prose. Even the way it’s balled up can be different from time to time, not always telling a true tale of where it came from, and the same word for the same meaning and function can have different shapes over time, some plain for function, some fancy for curiosity or to show ingenuity and splendour. A word is in this way a yarringle, and yarringle is such a word.

James Orchard Halliwell, in his 1847 Dictionary of Archaic Words, quotes “Dict. Rust.” (Dictionaria Rustica? he doesn’t spell it out even in the forematter) for the definition of yarringle:

An instrument of great use among good housewifes, by means of which yarn-slippings or hanks (after they have been washed and whitened) are wound up into clews or round balls; these by some are termed a pair of yarringles, or yarringle blades, which are nothing else but two sticks or pieces of wood set cross, with a hole in the middle, to turn round about a wooden or iron pin fixed in the stock; the ends are full of holes, to put the pins in, narrower or wider, according to the compass of the slipping or yarn upon it. Some have these instruments jointed with hinges, to turn treble, they being the easier for carriage; but such are more for curiosity than necessity. The stock is made of various shapes; some have a square on the top, with a wharl in the middle, and edged about like the sides of a box, into which the clews are put, as they are wound, and this is set upon three or four wooden feet. Others have them in the form of a pillar fixed in a square, with a three-cornered or round foot, either plain or else wrought with turned or carved work, to show the ingenuity of the artificer, or splendour of the owner.

This word yarringle is also in the Oxford English Dictionary, marked with the obelisk of obsoletion. In origin it is a variant of yarwindle – you can see how it’s gotten spun another way, the dropped, the indle come more comfortably to ingle. And yarwindle is in its turn a reduction of yarnwindle, which now you can see is made of yarn and wind plus le (a spindle spins and a windle winds); it is also called a garnwindle, because garn and yarn are twins pulled apart in early years – many an Old English has been half-undone to become in our times, as your æge (eye) will geornian (yearn) tell you.

Well, such is what happens when you use yarns over and over again, I’m a-frayed.

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