Wednesday’s Word: Transom
This word refers to the surface of the stern (rear) of a boat or a support beam that runs atop a door or window. For this, the word might qualify as something obscure except those with a good nautical or architectural vocabulary (I love architectural terms, by the way). A lot of vocabulary is this way, i.e. specialized. So a word that might seem normal and common for doctors, lawyers, or computer technicians might be completely foreign to someone not involved in those professions. As Will Rogers said,
We’re all ignorant, just on different subjects.
But there is a phrase involving transom that has broken out of these narrow subsets of English. It’s used when we say something is being sent “over the transom”. And in this phrase it means “unsolicited”. For example authors are almost always sending their manuscripts over the transom when they query an agent or publisher. In fact, this is where the phrase originated. In the past when you wanted to submit a piece of writing, you shoved it through the window at the top of the publisher’s office door.
I suppose when someone is on the receiving end of something unsolicited, it can be tense, unhappy, perhaps awkward, even bothersome. Or, depending upon your disposition, serendipitous, exciting, or mysterious. It all depends on the nature of the thing being received and the attitude of the receiver. For the giver, however, it is almost universally an occasion of heightened expectation: “Will they reply? How will they respond? Will my letter or gift or application be rejected? Will I get the job? Will I get noticed?”
Throughout life there will be many times when you are on either the receiving or the giving end of something sent “over the transom”. Things as mundane as a visit from the neighbor, asking to borrow some sugar or as momentous as putting a bid in on your first house. When it does happen, try to remember what it’s like on the other side. Temper your expectations if you’re the sender or, consider more thoughtfully your response if you’re the recipient. Learning to cope with life’s unexpected and unsolicited events is part of living well. Because you never know when the next thing might come over the transom.