Word Hoard

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Garrison Finish, Hobson's Choice, and Gurney's Absence

I'll begin at the end and start with the Garrison finish, the finish of a contest in which the winner rallies at the last moment to score the victory. This entry is appropriate given the close nature of a majority of this year's NFL playoffs. According to Anu Garg, it comes after Edward "Snapper" Garrison (1868-1930), a jockey known for hanging back during most of the race and finishing at top speed to achieve a thrilling victory.

Hobson's choice is a fun one; the option of taking what is offered or nothing, no choice. While the last entry didn't make it into my OED, Hobson's here. After T. Hobson (1554-1631), a Cambridge carrier who gave his customers a choice between the next horse or none at all. The story I heard was that he rented horses to students, and inevitably there were favorite horses who were chosen over others, thence wearing them out. So to solve this problem, he said they could have the horse closest to the door or none at all. There is a similar tale about Henry Ford and his Model T. From our false fount of wisdom Wikipedia:

Henry Ford is commonly reputed to have made the statement "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black." Actually, Model Ts in different colors were produced from 1908 to 1914, and then again from 1926 to 1927. It is often quoted that Ford chose black because the paint dried faster than other colored paints available at the time, and a faster drying paint would allow him to build cars faster as he would not have to wait for the paint to dry. This theory is not supported by fact however.

Over 30 different types of black paint were used to paint various parts of the Model T. The different types of paint were formulated to satisfy the different means of applying the paint to the different parts, and had different drying times, depending on the paint and the drying method used for a particular part. Ford engineering documents suggest that the color black was chosen because it was cheap and it was durable.

So that is that.

I don't know why I was looking up gurney one day, but I was, and I went to my paperback dictionary and gurney was nowhere to be found. I noticed this absence even more when I was getting some dictionaries for my cousins for graduation at Barnes & Noble. If I remember correctly, maybe one out of three dictionaries had gurney as an entry. I guess most of them went from gurgle to guru. Fortunately, the OED has plenty of entries between those two, most of them coming from the ol' subcontinent. Anyway, our word apparently comes from T. Gurney of Boston, MA who patented a new cab design in 1883. It was first a two-wheeled horse-drawn cab with a rear door and lengthwise seating. Also a similar vehicle used as a police wagon or ambulance. Then in the Middle 20th century it became a wheeled stretcher used for transporting hospital patients.

This would explain why my Webster's Collegiate published in 1947 and last copyrighted in 1941 goes gurgle, gurglet, gurnard, and then gush. The 1965 version, that I also have, has these words in the aforementioned area: gurgle, Gurkha, gurnard, gurry, guru, and then gush. So 24 years gives us Gurkha, gurry, and guru, but not gurney. So if you're ever looking at dictionaries, see if it has gurney in it. Then you have to decide if it needs it.


  • At January 30, 2007 12:56 PM, Blogger Daniel said…

    I wish someone else would comment.

  • At January 30, 2007 11:14 PM, Blogger Buffy Turner said…

    Oh, Daniel,

    I think I love your comment as much as your post. Michael and I were at school when we saw the comment and so died.

    I was just thinking of a "Garrison finish" the other day, though I can't remember regarding what. "Hobson's choice," however, hadn't been in the forefront of my mind, for a while, so I do appreciate getting that one back to the tip of my tongue.

    And on the side, what spelling of "curfuffle" do you prefer? My friend and I are tallying how many times our Carribean Lit. professor'll say it (he said it twice in the first three classes, and we both noticed), and he tried insisting this evening that it's spelled, "kerfuffle," and I assured him that when I mastered the word, two years ago, I picked among two-or-three-at-least accepted spellings, so that he cannot for a second tell me I'm spelling it wrong. I chose the "c-u" version quite purposefully.

    But let's hear what you think.

    (And I've been trying to hold myself back from sending out a myspace bulletin announcing my latest post, but after over 24 hours passing, I must at least tell you: I have a new post.)

  • At January 31, 2007 5:16 AM, Blogger Daniel said…

    I'm a "kurphuffle" man myself.

    No, I'm just kidding. If you walked up to me in the middle of the grocery store and asked me to spell kerfuffle, I'd say k-e-r-f-u-f-f-l-e.

    And I appreciate your comment. Garrison finish was fairly new to me, but Hobson's choice is an old favorite.


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