What does it mean to be stove up? This phrase for sore or stiff has nothing to do with a stovetop; stove is actually the past tense of stave. To stave in a wooden boat is to smash a hole in its side, and thus, to be stove up is to be incapacitated or damaged. These words are related to the noun stave, the term for one of those flat pieces of wood in a barrel. Similarly, to stave off hunger is to metaphorically beat it back, as if with a stick. This is part of a complete episode.

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  1. Dave Miller says:

    Your discussion of the phrase, ‘stove up’, made me wonder whether it sheds some light on a word I first encountered when reading Richard Henry Dana’s ‘Two Years Before the Mast’ many years ago. In the book, Dana talks about his time spent in the California of the 1830’s tanning hides in preparation for shipment to Eastern markets. When his vessel returns to pick up its cargo, Dana describes the process of loading the tanned hides into the ship’s hold by means of ‘steeving’. Basically, when the hold appeared to be full, the crew would compress the load using a long lever made from one of the spars of the ship. More hides could then be forced into the space created, maximizing the salable cargo the ship could carry. Repeated over and over again, the crew could create a ship that was virtually bursting with skins.

    My thought when I first read this was that ‘steeve’ must be the root of the word, ‘stevedore’. but having heard your radio bit, I wonder if there is a connection to ‘stave’ because of the long poles used to steeve. I’m probably wrong; I usually am when guessing at etymologies, but I’d appreciate your insight.

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