The other day I was thinking of bits and bobs. meaning objects of different kinds. It’s a homely expression, which makes me think of my late mother. It has a 1950s feel about it and I associate it with listening to the Light Programme on the radio, stamps of George VI and the coming dynamic times of the New Elizabethans (that was the story in 1953…), the WVS doling out bottles of orange juice with blue bottle caps and aged electric trains from before the war trundling from Brighton to West Worthing.
Curious about its etymology, my secure world crumbles. Wikipedia has the explanation that I find most convincing although unfortunately without a source. “It originated from carpenters’ tool kits containing parts for a drill, with bits used for making holes while bobs are routing or screwdriving drill attachments”. The word “routing” catches my attention. It takes a while to find the meaning, the net being swamped by a tsunami of computer routers, but this router is a power tool with a shaped cutter.
I learn that a drill isn’t designed for the sideways forces associated with routing, using a drill as a router may damage its gears, whether it’s a drill press or a handheld tool. Additionally, drill press chucks are often fitted onto tapered posts, and applying excessive sideways force can cause a chuck to come loose.
According to Chris Deziel on www.hunker.com “A drill chuck doesn’t hold the bit as tightly as a router collet, and a router bit is more likely to slip in a handheld drill or drill press. Apart from the fact that this makes the tool unreliable and potentially dangerous, it can also damage the bit by creating a series of grooves on the bit’s shaft. After use in a drill a bit may not fit in a router again, or, if it does, it may suddenly break while you’re using it — imagine a sharpened carbide blade that’s spinning 500 times per second becoming airborne”.
I would prefer not to think of sharpened carbide blades becoming airborne while spinning at 500 times per second. But now bits and bobs will for the rest of my life not just remind me of my secure childhood on the Sussex coast but it will have associations with a world full of metallic threats and unknown terms, router collet and drill chuck, a world not made for me, more or less a drill virgin. Knowledge has its price; not quite as dramatic as Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden but a step in that direction.
“odds and ends” is anyway a bit more friendly originating from the 1500s and originally referring to bits left over from bolts of cloth. I’ve seen the Middle English term “bolt” before but it’s not part of my active vocabulary. But I can at least integrate it without collateral verbal damage and am sure it will pass my lips before drill press chuck gets there.
To be really on the safe side, perhaps I should go upmarket and stick to paraphernalia. Not quite the same but not so far away in its sense of miscellaneous articles per se. It comes from the Greek, and here means “apart from a dowry”, originally in the sense of the bride’s small personal possessions, which were not part of the dowry. Later broadened to the present meanings.
It’s a gap in my education that my grammar school didn’t offer Greek. It’s too big a project to learn classical Greek when I’ve attained the Parisian age of 75 but I would really love to go to a good course that picked out the aspects of the language that are important for understanding the origins of English. But there again I would love rather a lot of things and when it comes to language, I am irredeemably promiscuous, becoming infatuated at the flip of a cognate.