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Stem-winder

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Stem-winder

Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat Sep 28, 2013 10:22 pm

• stem-winder •


Pronunciation: stem-wain-dêr • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A keyless watch that is wound up by a permanent stem connected to the spring. 2. Something first-rate, something excellent in its class, a doozy. 3. A rousing, energetic speech.

Notes: This word has been around since the 1850s, referring to any mechanical device with a spring that is wound by a stem rather than by a key. In referring to antique watches, it is still used in this sense. In fact, the word has given us a verb, to stem-wind. The only other relatives of today's Good Word are the adjective and action noun, both of which are stem-winding.

In Play: Our word today seems to specialize in rousing speeches: "President Obama is known for giving stem-winders on the stump (campaign trail) that attract tens of thousands." We are not limited to this usage, though: "Bunsen Berner is a stem-winder in the lab: he can concoct every kind of compound known to man."

Word History: Does anyone remember when we had to wind up our watches? Before wrist watches, even pocket watches, clocks ran on springs that had to be wound periodically with a key. Since keys are among the items we most frequently lose, that design came with certain frustrations. In the 1850s a stem-wound watch appeared on the Swiss watch market. This watch was wound by a stem with a knurled cap on top connected to the spring. To wind these new-fangled watches and clocks you only had to twist the stem now and then. The new watches were a sensation among those wealthy enough to purchase one, and they quickly developed the reputation of being the best of the best. As result, the term stem-winder came to mean something of top quality, the very best. Even though timepieces today have no springs at all, the word stem-winder still bears the reputation of the original Swiss masterpiece. (Gratitude today is owed the man with more double consonants in his name than anyone I know, Ed Pellicciotti, for suggesting today's stem-winder of a Good Word.)
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Re: Stem-winder

Postby MTC » Sun Sep 29, 2013 10:08 am

Through folk etymology "stem-winder" has been re-analyzed to mean a speech so long and boring one is led to wind one's watch.
Eventually this new sense may find its way into the dictionary. For details see http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-ste3.htm
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Re: Stem-winder

Postby LukeJavan8 » Sun Sep 29, 2013 12:29 pm

I have two antique stem-winders. Love them both.
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Re: Stem-winder

Postby MTC » Sun Sep 29, 2013 8:00 pm

Vintage watches appeal because they seem more human, more fallible like us. They wind down daily like us; movements like constitutions get out of balance; hands stiffen and falter; mainsprings break like hearts.
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Re: Stem-winder

Postby LukeJavan8 » Mon Sep 30, 2013 12:16 pm

And finding a reputable repair person is harder and harder.
Kids have no interest in them at all.
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Re: Stem-winder

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Sep 30, 2013 5:48 pm

A stem-winder of a speech to me does not refer to length and is not boring. Rather it is passionate and effective, just short of rabble rousing. The coach gave a stem-winding speech at the half to fire up his troops.
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