Big wagons, little spaces

'I'll be there with bells on'

Early 19th-century Conestoga wagons used to arrive at their destination with bronze bells ringing, giving rise to this expression meaning "ready and eager." And with good reason. Conestoga wagons were those heavy, covered, broad-wheeled vehicles that carried American pioneers westward across seas of prairie grass. These "prairie schooners" also carried manufactured goods west and could return eastward carrying as much as eight tons of raw material. Wagon drivers were happy to arrive - east or west - with bells ringing.

According to word sleuth Robert Hendrickson, the Conestoga wagons are also responsible for traffic moving on the right side of the road in the United States rather than on the left, as in Britain. Conestogas were best directed from the left-hand seat and had a clear view ahead only when driven on the right side of the road. Once other drivers followed ruts made by the heavy wagons, habit became law.

My own little 'cubby'

Could this word for a storage place have developed from the den of a bear or a fox? A place for cubs? No.

The term comes from rural 16th-century England where small man-made animal shelters like pens, hutches, and coops were called "cubs." In time, a sloop's small cabin or any small closet was called a "cuddy." Both words, according to the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, come from the Anglo-Saxon word "cofa," cave or cell.

Since cubbyhole (a small retreat) was originally used by British children, the authors propose that possibly these two words - "cubby" and "cuddy" - were once the same word, "cub," occasionally mispronounced.

SOURCES: Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, by William and Mary Morris; 'Word and Phrase Origins,' by Robert Hendrickson.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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