Some people question whether they got a square deal when the city decided this year to allow an asphalt plant in a nearby quarry. I don’t intend to belittle this issue, but I found it interesting that the words “quarry” and “square” come from the same Latin root “quadrare,” meaning “to square.”
Some people question whether they got a square deal when the city decided this year to allow an asphalt plant in a nearby quarry.
I don’t intend to belittle this issue, but I found it interesting that the words “quarry” and “square” come from the same Latin root “quadrare,” meaning “to square.”
In the case of “quarry,” the Latin precursor means literally “place where stones are squared.”
In a traditional quarry operation, the stonecutting is done in a set pattern in which rock is extracted one large block at a time. The blocks have rectangular (or square) faces, and the method of removal is reflected in the steep, straight sides of the crater left behind.
The word “quarry” also can mean “a square or diamond-shaped piece of glass, tile, etc.,” more commonly called a “quarrel.”
The other kind of “quarrel,” a dispute or a disagreement, like the one over the Mulford Road quarry, comes from a different Latin verb, “queri,” for “to complain, lament.”
And the other “quarry,” as in something being chased or hunted, traces its history back to the Latin “cor,” for “heart.” Its connection with an organized pursuit, often with a fatal conclusion, can be seen in its most recent ancestor, the Middle English “querre,” which originally was “parts of the prey put on the hide and fed to the dogs.”
Gruesome, eh? Sorry, but I’m not a hunter, except for morel mushrooms.
“Square” has a number of applications in addition to those involving geometry (the four-sided figure) and algebra (a number multiplied by itself).
There are “town squares” and “village squares” and “square dances.” People can be “square-shouldered” or “square-jawed.”
In slang parlance, they can be just plain “square,” referring to a lack of sophistication or being way out of step with some current trend.
Everyone appreciates a “square meal,” and in this nation many of us have come to expect three squares a day.
The notion of making things even, settling disagreements or putting things in order can be seen in “squaring accounts,” as well as to “square away” or “square up.” The last two also can be used in the sense of taking up a defensive or combative posture, also commonly expressed by “square off.”
In old slang, “to square” meant “to bribe,” but these days “square” is mostly about being honest, fair, genuine and so on. In this sense, we have the phrases “on the square,” “square shooter” and “square deal,” as used in the opening paragraph.
Not that we need to go back to “square one.”
And then there’s “square the circle.” This expression for “to do or attempt something that seems impossible” was inspired by the quest in Euclidean geometry to “find a square equal in area to a given circle.” And no matter how many times you go back to square one on that one, you reach the same conclusion: It can’t be done.
That makes it a most elusive quarry.
Barry Wood is a copy editor at the Register Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org