Way More Than You Wanted to Know

Cob Photo by Save For Later Photo on Unsplash

Why is a cobbler both a delicious dessert and also a little old man hunched over his bench making shoes? Inquiring writers, enjoying the former, wanted to know.

This is not a riddle. It’s a gnarly etymological question that I can’t adequately explain but will attempt to elucidate.

The root of it all is cob, an old English root that means something like “lump” or “bump” or some sort of rounded object. Think cobblestones, right? A blueberry cobbler, to choose a delectable example, forms a crispy, usually rough and lumpy topping over the bubbling fruit; a cobbler’s top looks cobbled like a cobblestone street.

The shoemaker muddles the issue. Etymological sources employ weaselly phrases like “uncertain origin” and “evidently” and “appears to derive.” So the experts aren’t certain, but cobble, as in cobble together, arose in the 16th century, meaning “to make, mend, or patch.” I like Etymonline’s explanation:  “perhaps a back-formation from cobbler (n.1), or from cob, via a notion of lumps.”

I hope to incorporate the phrase “via a notion of lumps” into a future conversation somehow.

I guess a shoemaker, then, cobbles together shoes from lumps of leather, making him a cobbler.

As a lump or a bump, cob can also refer to heads, which are rounded like cobblestones. So a male swan, as head of his family, is called a cob. The word can also mean a spider. (Apparently one of the last appearances of the word in that sense was in The Hobbit in 1937.) Cobs as spiders create webs which decorate my house’s corners and ceilings. A corncob is lumpy and bumpy and woody.

A cob can also mean a sturdy, rounded loaf of bread, and, as you may have encountered in other English novels, a horse of particular type. An equine cob (see photo above) is solid and stocky, lumpier and bumpier than a sleekly elegant steed.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized, Wednesday Word and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Way More Than You Wanted to Know

  1. Jewel Moulthrop says:

    Exactly what I wanted to know! The mystery of cobweb has been solved.

    P.S. Where’ve you been? Glad you’re back!

  2. Amy Kesegich says:

    I love this! You have cobbled together a lovely response to our collective query. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Sarah Becker says:

    The cob in shoemaking could mean the last.

    From theoldtimey.com:
    Lasts are the molds that shoes are built around.
    The shape of the last determines the shape of the shoe.
    Throughout the history of shoemaking, cobblers have made their own lasts out of wood, cloth, or leather.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *