Word of The Day for Thursday, October 14, 2010


kerf (kurf) \ˈkərf\

1. a cut or incision made by a saw, an ax or the like in a piece of wood (or metal)
2. the width of cut made by a saw or the like
3. (mining) a deep cut a few inches high, used to undermine a portion of a coal or mineral seam
4. a stroke with a weapon
to make a kerf or kerfs

Synonyms: chip, hack, indent, indentation, indenture, notch, nick
Related Words: carve

• When the kerf is well started, the whole weight of the saw may be applied. An easy light stroke is better than a furious one.
• Wood was dirt cheap in mid-19th-century America. So we made fast saws with a wide kerf -- like half an inch. Then we choked on the resulting sawdust.

The Storyline
... his face pressed against the kerfs in the wood frame left by the ill-advised attempt to cut their way in the last time Tyler and Kurt locked themselves out.

bef. 1000;  ME kerf, kirf,  OE cyrf  a cutting

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, Wordnik

Why This Word:
It's a fun little word, kerf. It's also a word with a long history. Cutting things with a saw or an ax is in some ways that moment we became human as a species. We take it for granted today, unless you're a woodworker. But the cut itself, what's taken out, eventually became a significant problem at the point we needed to start to conserve materials and reduce waste. The kerf is an idea that is surprisingly rich in metaphorical implications, if we think about it.  It's what isn't there, what's removed, the cut itself. The kerf is the empty space created in the process of remaking the physical world. And by way of metaphor, there are more possibilities as well: the kerf of a budget cut, or severed relationship. Maybe it's time we started thinking about the kerf once again.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

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