• stave •
Pronunciation: stayv • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To crush, especially inward, to push or cave (in) violently, to jam, as to stave in a finger. 2. To break up or puncture staves, as to stave in a barrel or a wooden boat. 3. (with off) To repel or prevent, as to stave off hunger.
Notes: This word is used more often in some dialect areas than others. As a result, its past tense form, stove, is often confused with the present tense. Remember: "I never stave my finger but yesterday I stove it pretty badly." This happens when something hits the end of an extended finger and jams it. (Staved also serves in the past tense these days.) We may also stave off something unpleasant. This means to repel it, prevent it from happening, as to stave off hunger with a crust of bread.
In Play: The original sense of this word was the act of breaking up or caving in the staves of barrels: "During Prohibition, staving liquor and wine was a major task of law enforcement officers." Notice we do not even need to mention "barrels" in this sense. In the US this word is also used in the sense of jamming a finger or similar object, pushing it inwards: "When Slick fell forward, he extended his hands for protection and stove in one of his fingers."
Word History: Today's Good Word came from the noun stave, in the sense of a barrel stave. Stave, in its turn, is a back-formation from the old plural of staff, which was staves, similar to life and lives. Hence the original sense of today's word is "to break in or up the staves of a barrel". It was then expanded to breaking up the planks of a wooden boat and thence to breaking up anything, especially by pushing it in. The original PIE root was stebh- "post, stem, support" which we see in Russian stebel' "stem". In German the same root produced Stab "staff" and Stamm "stem", and in Greek staphyle "grapevine". (Let's stave off any question of our gratitude to Joe Heckel for suggesting today's Good Word with this word of gratitude to him.)