spile for tapping syrup from a tree

Wednesday’s Word: Spile

Wednesday's Word - A weekly feature on author DJ Edwardson's website

spile

I came across this word just recently while reading A Tale of Two Cities. It’s my first time reading Dickens and I’ve been quite impressed with the author’s mastery of prose. As with many older books, the vocabulary is rich and sometimes beyond me and ‘spile’ proved to be just such a word. In fact, when it didn’t even show up in my computer’s dictionary, I knew it would make good material for a Wednesday word.

The word has several meanings, but the most common is simply as a post or stake. It can also refer to the wooden or metal spout used for tapping syrup from the tree. The word doubles as a verb, referring to the use of the peg to do any of these activities in much the same way that hammer is a tool and also refers to the use of that tool.

spile for tapping syrup from a tree

I think the definition of spile as a syrup spigot is my favorite one. I’ve never tapped syrup from a tree myself, but I would love to try some day or at least see how it’s done. To me it’s amazing that syrup even comes from trees. I mean, you look at trees and they look anything but syrupy. And yet, inside they are hiding this wonderful, sticky, sugary substance. Why should that be so? Truly we live in a strange and marvelous world when you stop and think about it, where paradoxes and serendipity seem to lurk around every corner. Oh, for eyes and hearts of wonder to see such things and not to miss them.

One final note, however. Though Dickens uses the word spile in his book, from the context it’s not clear whether he meant to refer to the actual word spile or whether the character using it was saying some other word (possibly ‘spoil’) but with a heavy accent. Here’s the quote from Tale of Two Cities so you can judge for yourself:

“It’s hard in the law to spile a man, I think. It’s hard enough to kill him, but it’s wery hard to spile him, sir.”

Whatever Dickens’ intention, it’s always fun and interesting learning new words and I’m thankful for writers like him who send me to the dictionary now and then to learn something new.

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