Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wedge issue

An item of pure language trivia, gleaned as I was catching up on my reading: The August 6 issue of The New Yorker uses the word wedge (in one form or another) six times, in five different stories.

Gallery listings, p. 11: “oddball arrangements of tomatoes, cheese wedges, and melons and balloons.”

Shouts & Murmurs, p. 33: “R.S.V.P. using the tiny card that is wedged somewhere between the fourth and seventh layers of tissue paper.”

Letter from Rangoon, p. 53: “Wedged like an arrowhead between India and China, Burma has been ruled by dictators …”

Ibid., p. 61: “all comically wedged into school chairs with plastic desks on the arms.”

The Theatre, p. 77: “Alcibiades … gets his wedge from Timon to pay for the soldiers.”

The Current Cinema, p. 78: “At an age when many men consider it a trial of strength to carry their own pitching wedge, [William Friedkin] still devotes himself to finding the optimum angle …”

That’s three uses of the past participle wedged and three of wedge the noun, in three different senses. Two of them -- the hunk of cheese and the golf club -- are familiar; the third, as I learned a couple of years ago, is British slang for money. The OED tells me it’s based on a “wad of bank notes” (a wedge, sort of, when folded in half) but no longer necessarily implies folding money.

This sense dates only to the 1970s, but wedge had two earlier careers in the financial field, one as "cant" for "silver, whether money or plate," in the 18th and 19th centuries, and another, much earlier, meaning "silver ingot," stretching back to the Venerable Bede. “The Old English wecg is in translations of Matt. xvii. 27 used for ‘piece of money, rendering Latin stater’” notes the OED.

How unlikely are the six wedges in one issue? It’s not worth going deep on the question of comparative frequency, but wedge has recently come up only once or twice a month in TNY. So it’s surely coincidental, just as a newspaper section will end up with five present-participle headlines, or toasters will pop up in several comics on the same day. (In fact, in yesterday’s Boston Globe three of the 30 comics used superhero jokes.)

The repetition would be hard for an editor to spot, and hard for most readers too, unless they  were reading several stories in succession. I wouldn't be surprised if someone else noticed the (mild) rash of wedges -- but I guess I wouldn't be surprised if nobody did, either. 


soubriquet said...

Interesting. I'm more familiar with 'wadge' for a bundle of notes.
Wedge? No. Can't say I've ever heard that one, except in the context of a wedge being a small amount of money, as in perhaps a bribe, to open a door, gain access. The thin end of...

Also cf Harry Enfield's comedy character, 'Loadsamoney' waving his cash and shouting "Look at my wad!"

T. Roger Thomas said...

I was not previously familiar with that obscure definition for "wedge".

wongwear said...

In Australia we have the word wedgie.

It is a bit of a joke really but it has a real meaning to us.

I will try to delicately describe what we mean.

One has a wedgie when one's bikini bottoms or underpants ride up at the back and sort of strangle one's bottom. A search for Autralia wedgie will produce lots of images.