Wormgear
Posted: 01 June 2009 03:49 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Etymonline gives for “worm”:
O.E. wurm, variant of wyrm “serpent, dragon,” also in later O.E. “earthworm,” from P.Gmc. *wurmiz (cf. O.S., O.H.G., Ger. wurm, O.Fris., Du. worm, O.N. ormr, Goth. waurms “serpent, worm"), from PIE *wrmi-/*wrmo- “worm” (cf. Gk. rhomos, L. vermis “worm,” O.Rus. vermie “insects,” Lith. varmas “insect, gnat"), possibly from base *wer- “turn” (see versus).

I was wondering if the “worm” in “wormgear” or “wormdrive”, i.e. a drive via a screw thread came from the animal or was a parallel formation from the *wer- base.

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Posted: 01 June 2009 05:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Yes, same word.

OED lists these, and many similar (-jack, -pinion, -rack, -screw, etc.) under worm, n., IV, 17, d. First cites for both are:

1907 Westm. Gaz. 19 Nov. 4/2 This machine..retains..the silent *worm-drive. 

1884 B’ham Daily Post 24 Jan. 3/1 Wanted, 10 ton Foundry Ladle, extra strong, with *worm gear.

It refers these and the others to sense 16g of worm, “An endless or tangent screw the thread of which gears with the teeth of a toothed wheel (or similar device).”

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Posted: 01 June 2009 08:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks for that.  Does it suggest how the meaning passed from animal to screw?

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Posted: 01 June 2009 08:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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It does, bayard, sorry for the inadvertent omission.

worm, n,

16. Used as the name of various implements of spiral form. (Supposed to resemble the sinuous shape and movement of an earthworm.)

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Posted: 01 June 2009 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Notably in the “worm” which was the tool used for clearing the debris of the previous charge from a muzzle-loading cannon before reloading; it was shaped like an outsize double corkscrew on a pole.  This is the origin of the phrase “to worm something out of” someone.

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Posted: 01 June 2009 11:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Are you sure about that, syntinen? First cite for worm in the sense of “remove the charge or wad from (a gun) by means of a worm” is 1802 in OED.

To worm out meaning to extract information has a first cite of 1715, and there is a related sense, to pry into the secrets of someone, which goes back to at least 1607.

Interesting too that there is an old sense (worm II, 3a) , to extract the ‘worm’ or lytta from the tongue of a dog (supposed tobe a safeguard against madness) - 1575 cite - which has transferred and figurative senses of remedying madness in general. A presumably related sense (II, 3c) is ”to worm a person in the nose: to extract information from him by adroit questioning. Obs.
Cf. F. tirer à quelqu’un les vers du nez.

I think the latter may have some relevance to the modern phrase.

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Posted: 01 June 2009 11:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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There are also phrases such as “to winkle* something out of someone” which suggest that the origin of “worm something out of someone” was not related to a tool. OED on the verb winkle: to extract or eject (as a winkle from its shell with a pin).

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Posted: 02 June 2009 03:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Anything to do with tapeworms rather than earthworms does anyone think?

Edited for typo

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