Lexie Kahn and the Sticking Point

I savored a morsel of omelet. It was delicious: crisp on the outside, tender within, but harboring some mysteries, like its maker. “Can you see Ms. Big as Secretary of State?” I asked.

Michael Ripoll, Brooch, sterling silver and expoxy resin, 2009.

“Sure. With her fortune, she must have more pins than Madeleine Albright.”

“Ready to brooch any diplomatic topic; is she?”

C.J. smirked. “She could spell out an entire treaty proposal on her ample –“

My bare foot didn’t do much damage to his shin, but it cut his sentence short. He quickly diverted me with an etymological question: “So does the double-O brooch have anything to do with broaching a subject?”

“Yes. And if a monarch were to broach a subject, he’d quickly squelch any rebellious thoughts that subject might have.”

C.J. skewered me with a glance.  “You mean the two words are related to the French en brochette?”

“Yes, except brooch and broach are the same word. The spelling difference arose relatively recently to distinguish the double-O ‘ornamental safety pin’ from the other meanings. Middle English took the verb from Old French brochier, which came from Latin brocchus or broccus, meaning ‘projecting.’ Originally the noun referred to any long, pointy thing: a lance, spear, bodkin, skewer, awl or stout pin.”

“What the hell is a bodkin, anyway? I know there’s something in Hamlet about a bare bodkin, but in 10th-grade English we couldn’t stop giggling long enough to hear the teacher tell us what it was.”

“A dagger.” This time I was the one with the piercing glance. “Although broach referred to lots of pointy objects, like spindles and spires, it most often a spit for roasting meat. As for the verb, in the 1300s to 1600s it meant ‘to pierce, stab, thrust through’ or ‘to spur a horse.’ It also meant ‘to tap a cask of liquor.’ That’s where we get the current sense of introducing a topic; we’re figuratively tapping into it.”

“Well, I guess I broached a fount of wisdom.”

I wisely stopped my mouth with omelet.

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