a 1956 book by Eric Sloane, tells of the origins of many terms handed
down to modern times.
where did the term “pen knife” originate? In the days before fountain
and ballpoint pens, a feather quill was sharpened to a point, dipped
into a bottle of ink, used to write on paper, then blotted to keep
the wet lines of ink from smearing. The pen knife was invented to
sharpen the point of the quill.
differed from millstones. Grindstones were imported from England
and Nova Scotia. By 1840, numerous grindstone and millstone factories
were opened in early America. Grindstones were of fine grit and
used to sharpen axes, hatchets, knives and other woodworking tools.
The Grindstone Man appeared regularly on a route through the country,
setting up his foot-pedaled grindstone and a portable sign stating
the business was open.
of heavier grit, with grooves to carry the grain being ground into
meal. Most were sold only to grain grinding concerns.
A blacksmith derived his origins from “a man who strikes” as with
a hammer on iron. The term “smith” is derived from the word “smite,”
meaning the striking of an object with another.
A wheel-wright, usually a blacksmith, derived his title from a problem
of a broken or damaged wooden wheel of a wagon, buggy or implement
being made “right” to work properly.
The most unusual origin of all was the barber shop. Original barbers
were also surgeons. Their specialty was blood letting, a procedure
that drained off bad blood, allowing new blood to revive the human
His professional advertisement was a wooden carved arm, hanged down
from a mount, and painted red, simulating the work of blood letting.
As this procedure outlived its time, the barber turned to grooming,
often providing bath facilities in a rear room of the shop. The
carved arm painted red, evolved into a round barber pole with red
and white stripes advertising the service.
© Delbert Trew
14, 2012 column
More "It's All Trew"
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher.
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing
Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history, stories,
landmarks and recent or vintage photos, please contact