Printable Version
Pronunciation: hwip-saw Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, verb

Meaning: 1. (Noun) A narrow, flexible two-person crosscut saw, used especially for curved cuts. 2. (Verb) To cut with a whipsaw. 3. (Verb) To simultaneously or rapidly subject to two different pressures. 4. (Verb) To pressure forcefully and repeatedly.

Notes: A whipsaw is a long, flexible saw, capable of making curved cuts. It has no lexical family. Whiplash, the sudden movement of the head and neck forward and backward (two directions), is another compound based on the same figurative use of whip.

In Play: Ignoring the obvious first two definitions above, let's try the third as it might be heard today: "Jerry Mander is getting whipsawed between his national ambitions and home-state politics." We might hear this in the fourth sense above: "Marilyn seems the traditional dutiful wife in public, but privately she whipsaws her husband into shape."

Word History: Today's Good Word is clearly a compound made up of two fairly common words, whip and saw. Whip has Germanic cousins in Dutch wippen "to swing" and Danish vippe "seesaw; to tilt". All these words go back to PIE weip-/weib- "to shake; to tremble, shivver", source also of English wipe, Latin vibrare "to vibrate", and Latvian viebties "mop". Saw, in Old English, was sagu. Danish sav, Swedish såg, Dutch zaag, and German Säge "saw" descended from the same ancestor. That Germanic ancestor was handed down from PIE sek- "to cut", source of Latin secare "to cut", too. In the Slavic languages we find Serbian seć "to cut", and sekira "ax" and Polish ciąć "to cut". (We now thank William Hupy for seeing the fascination in today's rather common Good Word and sharing it with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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