As promised, in time for holiday hams, we dissect “piggyback.”
This site doesn’t typically scrape so low as to piggyback on dictionary.com’s word of the day, but recently we slipped. The word was “dovetail,” a verb the urban dictionary calls a synonym for “piggyback.” Today, we’re piggybacking on that thought.
With “piggyback,” used as a verb since 1952, it seems we have a failure to communicate: It’s one of those words that got lost in translation, like piglatin. Most word detective sites say it’s a case of a folk etymology alteration — a corruption — of “pick pack” (1560s) or “pickaback.” The “pick” in this case is a dialectal variant of “pitch,” to throw. The 16th-century pickaback, then, described throwing something on one’s back to carry it, as a beast of burden might. Piggy power wasn’t harnessed in this way, though, because they are snooty and unruly beasts who’d rather pitch themselves into a pitch pit.
What’s interesting is that “piggybacking” today is not so much about work, but play. Most piggybacking observed across the animal spectrum is about parents carrying offspring — giving them rides, whether as a practical method of transportation or as an amusement — the organisms appear fused, but it’s really just strengthening their bond. A synonym is “pooseback” — you can picture the papoose. Like a human caboose.
Another modern definition of piggyback: “to obtain a wireless Internet connection by bringing one’s own computer within the range of another’s wireless connection without that subscriber’s permission or knowledge.” A free ride on the Internet. Executed by low-life swines.
As a birder, I admire hordes of dove tails.
I know by heart their rounded, tapering lines, like fancy Chinese fans; I know by sound their loopy wing whistle, which may or may not involve tail feathers. It signals that a mourning dove somewhere is hauling ass, so to speak.
Today, Dictionary.com plucked “dovetail” from the blue as its word of the day, defining it as the stock verb: “to join or fit together compactly or harmoniously.”
Often used in building trades to describe a joint with interlocking pieces shaped roughly like a dove’s tail, the compound noun form of dovetail fastens things together “logically,” according to Webster’s New World.
Logically speaking, then, why is “piggyback” a synonym for dovetail? In a work meeting, for instance, I might dovetail off your point. Things get disjointed if, say, in depositions, Witness A’s story doesn’t dovetail with Witness B’s story.
(Hey, do piggies really ride each other? I can think of loads of other animals who ride or get ridden in a superior fashion — how did piggies get chosen? Thought to be continued with an upcoming Word Whoop on “piggyback.”)
Dovetail juxtaposes neatly with “beavertail” — for those occasions when you’re fixing not to haul ass but to haul something.A beavertail trailer has a slight decline at the end of the deck, to make loading and unloading easier. The slanted part is also called a dovetail, I’m guessing, for its interlocking joints that allow it some flux. Not to be confused with “fishtail,” which suggests too much flux.
Turns out “dovetail” is a pretty handy term. There are dovetail jigs (used to cut dovetail shapes, for drawers, for instance) and dovetail saws for crafting things of wood — anyone have cause for a wooden craft or an ark at this juncture?
Here’s a description from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks’ website trumpeting its dovetail saw:
“Since dovetailing is a ripping operation, where the kerf is running with the grain, our Dovetail Saw has its teeth filed to a rip profile, unlike other dovetail saws on the market today.”
Kinda wrenches the dove from its peaceful image. In truth, doves are voracious eaters, more like pigs, and will let nothing get between them and their millet.
Whether you’re trying to connect 4-by-4’s, or connecting doves, pigs, beavers, even turtle doves when animals go marching two by two, here’s hoping it all dovetails nicely for you.