Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Plumbing with Aplomb


The Latin for lead (the metal, not the advantage) was plumbum, and so there is an obscure English word plumbous, which means leaden or heavy. But the uses of lead are various and so, therefore, are the words that derive from it.

The main thing about lead is that it is heavy. If you attach it to a piece of string, the piece of string will hang down perfectly vertically. It takes a strong wind to move lead. What you therefore get is a plumb line, which, combined with a right angle, was terribly useful in building until the spirit level came and took its job away.

It's also useful in working out the depth of water, as currents will not sway it much. Therefore one can plumb the depths using a plumb line. The weight will plunge into the water (from Latin plumbicare) and then plummet to the very bottom. The line will remain perfectly upright, or as the French would put it à plomb. If a person were to remain so upright in the currents and whirlpools of life, they would therefore display perfect aplomb.

But the other use of lead is that it's wonderfully soft for a metal. You can work it with your hands and it was this advantage that meant that it was used in roofing and then in Victorian water pipes. So universal was the use of lead, that by the 1870s piping was simply known as plumbing. Those who worked in lead had been known as plumbers for centuries, but now they became the people who fixed your taps.

The other thing about lead is that it's poisonous.

The Inky Fool wanted to be alone in his bathroom.

15 comments:

  1. I do like "plumbous"! I certainly have days when that's how I feel...

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  2. While it may well be poisonous if ingested, which restricts its use as a pottery glaze, a bright white paint pigment - or red-lead rustproofing. It's also deadly when cast into a bullet or used as a cosh or sap. But it's also the beautiful component which makes Lead Crystal Glassware so impressive.

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  3. And of course the lead in a pencil was never made of lead. I think you already explained that one, didn't you.

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  4. Hence the Grey-Legged (2-barred Greenish) Warbler....Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus.

    Laurie -

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  5. This is a nice read about plumbing. I really appreciate it. Thanks!

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  6. I think you already explained that one,Lead poisoning is the leading environmentally induced illness in children.

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  7. I think most of the people don't know about this lead description particularly those new students who join recently chemistry.

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  8. Don't forget the plumbago or common leadwort.

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  9. I like plumbous or even plumbers

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  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  11. Its a nice blog, thanks for sharing with us.

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  12. I'll have to ask my Lethbridge plumbers if they knew that when I call them up next. Really it's crazy how many words came from lead.

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  13. It's funny that all came from one word. I'll think of this next time when I'm having plumbing in Hamilton done.

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  14. This is a fun little article and I enjoyed reading it mainly because I am a plumber myself. Whoever has heard the word ‘plumbous’ before, although it is a real word! If it was a person it would be overweight and heavy, and if an animal slow and lethargic. I love the way words can conjure up images of people! I know a friend of mine who would love a copy of this book as they are fascinated by exotic words and love languages.

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  15. It takes a strong wind to move lead. What you therefore get is a plumb line, which, combined with a right angle, was terribly useful in building until the spirit level came and took its job away. Routhier Plumbing

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