The Big Think

November 5, 2010

Entomology Etymology Entomography

Filed under: Politics,Woodworking — jasony @ 10:50 pm

Reading all about the recent election results I keep coming across the term “shellacking”. President Obama said Democrats nationwide had received a “shellacking” and I’ve seen it repeated over and over in the press. Which makes me wonder: why this specific word? I use shellac in my woodworking projects all the time. Believe it or not, it’s the excrement of the lac bug mixed with denatured alcohol. It’s a totally non-toxic and natural substance and modern chemistry has had a tough time coming up with something better than this humble goo. You know that stuff that makes your veggies shiny and oily feeling in the supermarket? Lac poo. Yup, shellac has tons of uses. It’s great stuff.

So why is it when someone is beaten soundly we say they were “shellacked”?

UPDATE– Friend Daniel writes in with a link to this definition:

1713, from shell + lac (see lacquer). Translates Fr. laque en ├ęcailles “lac in thin plates.” The verb is 1876, from the noun. The slang sense of “beat soundly” is 1920s, perhaps from the notion of shellac as a “finish.” Shellacked “drunk” is from 1922 (cf. plastered).

Not a totally satisfactory answer in my opinion, though. One note: contrary to what some may have thought, I was posting about it for etymological reasons, not partisan ones. I just think word origins are cool.

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