• sledgehammer •
Pronunciation: slej-hæm-mêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A heavy hammer.
Notes: Sometimes you will hear only the first component of this compound word, sledge, with the same meaning. This is because sledge originally carried the whole meaning. When the meaning of this word began fading from our collective recollection, we added hammer to it in order to clarify its meaning.
In Play: Today's Good Word basically refers to heavy hammers: "What happened to my car? It looks like someone took a sledgehammer to it." It may also be used metaphorically in the sense of "like a sledgehammer", which is to say, heavy-handed: "You don't need a sledgehammer to swat a fly!"
Word History: The sledge in this word is unrelated to the heavy sleigh of the same name. Rather, it is related to German schlagen "to hit", and English slaughter and slay. It emerged only in the Germanic and Gaelic languages. Apparently, these languages borrowed it from some non-Indo-European language. Hammer is another matter. We see it in Russian kamen "stone" (from an older kamy), leading us to believe that the original hammers had a stone head. It also appears in several other Slavic and Germanic languages. (Philip Huson didn't need a sledgehammer to convince me to have a look at today's fascinating Good Word.)
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