Correcting my limitless lack of knowledge, one post at a time.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
I was watching one of those guilty pleasure crime shows the other evening, Rizzoli and Iles, if I have to confess, and some forgotten plot point revolved around a stevedore who worked on the docks. By a combination of context and memory, i was able to decipher that a stevedore is some level of union worker, and I think at the moment I understood it pretty well. But I did get curious about the term and more precisely where it had come from. The "-ador" ending is familiar from words like "ambassador" and "matador", and I take it that these have something to do with work or job. But what kind of job is it to be Steve?
Okay, it was no mystery why a stevedore was someone who works down on the docks, because the role of a stevedore is to load and unload ships. It comes from the Spanish estibador "one who loads cargo", the verb being estibar, "to load cargo", and has its roots in the Latin stipare, "to pack down or press". The online etymology dictionary tells us that this gives it a to me surprising relationship to the word "stiff", where the rigidness and inflexibility we associate with the word apparently comes from being packed or crammed together, at least originally.
I really should know more about the role of stevedores and all other dock workers than I do. My dad was a big fan of the longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer and used to talk about him all the time. He was an admirer of his book The True Believer, which was about fanatical following of mass movements, but the one that made the biggest impression on me (without my having actually bothered to read it), was Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, which was his journal about his time on the docks. I remember my dad talking about how Hoffer said he would be hauling stuff around all day and then at night he would dream he was hauling it all around again. A stevedore, in other words.
Yikes--I have a hard enough time dreaming I'm working at the cash register.
Plus, I really liked the season of The Wire set on the docks, and you'd think I'd have picked up a bit more of the lingo.
Of course, those of you who are practiced in urban slang may have a different definition for the word. The same definition, only, uh, different.