Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Apple #191: A Bumper of Bumpers

I've been reading a hefty amount of Victorian era novels lately: A Tale of Two Cities -- which is unbelievably violent, and I say unbelievably because I don't remember such bloody horrors from when I read it in high school -- Vanity Fair, and a somewhat obscure novel by Anthony Trollope.

In reading these novels, I encountered people drinking bumpers of punch, or pouring out another bumper of some kind of alcoholic drink. This was made to sound like a lot of hooch, and that word "bumper" made me think of the felt-covered bumpers that are on billiard tables. I wondered, are people drinking that much liquor, and out of things that look like pool table bumpers?

  • The word "bumper" is meant to indicate a hefty measure, but not in the container I was imagining.
  • Most of us know the word "bumper" in its first meaning, which is some kind of device that protects an object against shock or damage from oncoming things. But there are two other definitions.
  • The first alternate definition for "bumper" is a glass filled to the brim. This is the one we're after.
  • This definition may come from the observation that when one fills a glass with wine, or nearly any liquid, the liquid tends to cling lower to the sides of the glass than in the middle (a phenomenon called surface tension). This means that the liquid in the middle of the glass rises up, or "bumps" up.

Surface tension makes the water bulge above the rim of the glass, and is also strong enough to support this paper clip without making the water spill over
(Photo from the DHD Multimedia Gallery)

  • There is yet a third definition for bumper, and maybe this is also related to the wine-drinking definition. "Bumper" can also be an adjective meaning extraordinarily abundant, as in the phrase "bumper crop."
  • Finally, there is a much more recent slang meaning for bumper: crack cocaine.
    • I'm not sure where this meaning comes from exactly, but when I was looking for more information about this, I saw that in lots of drug busts, the cops found cocaine hidden in the bumpers of cars.
    • I also saw that the word "bumper" is can describe a container used to dispense small amounts of crack.
  • Lots of other things have been referred to as bumpers. Most of these things are either protecting one thing against damage from another or are somehow especially abundant. Here are some additional types of bumpers:
    • Side wall of a pool or billiard table
    • Piece of music or other interlude used to separate the content of one radio or television program from another segment, or from a commercial
    • Pad designed to fit around the inside of a baby bed to keep the baby from hitting itself against the bars, or from falling out
    • Bouncer, or door-man
    • Person who molds bricks by hand, or a machine that rams sand into a mold
    • Covered house at a theater (this is old slang)
    • A woman's well-endowed bottom (current, total slang)


Apple #200 is approaching...
Do you know what your favorites are?
More coming soon.

OneLook, bumper
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, accessed through, Bumper
Illinois Institute of Technology, Smile Program, Surface Tension of Water
Office of National Drug Control Policy, Street Terms: Drugs and the Drug Trade
Urban Dictionary, bumper

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you're a spammer, there's no point posting a comment. It will automatically get filtered out or deleted. Comments from real people, however, are always very welcome!