j.h. plumb


J(ohn) H(arold) 1911–2001, British historian.
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World English Dictionary
plumb (plʌm)
1.  a weight, usually of lead, suspended at the end of a line and used to determine water depth or verticality
2.  the perpendicular position of a freely suspended plumb line (esp in the phrases out of plumb, off plumb)
3.  informal chiefly (US) (prenominal) (intensifier): a plumb nuisance
4.  in a vertical or perpendicular line
5.  informal chiefly (US) (intensifier): plumb stupid
6.  informal exactly; precisely (also in the phrase plumb on)
vb (often foll by up)
7.  to test the alignment of or adjust to the vertical with a plumb line
8.  (tr) to undergo or experience (the worst extremes of misery, sadness, etc): to plumb the depths of despair
9.  (tr) to understand or master (something obscure): to plumb a mystery
10.  to connect or join (a device such as a tap) to a water pipe or drainage system
[C13: from Old French plomb (unattested) lead line, from Old French plon lead, from Latin plumbum lead]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

c.1300, "lead hung on a string to show the vertical line," from O.Fr. *plombe, plomme "sounding lead," from L.L. *plumba, originally pl. of L. plumbum "lead," the metal, of unknown origin, related to Gk. molybdos "lead" (dial. bolimos), probably from an extinct Mediterranean language, perhaps Iberian.
The verb is first recorded c.1380, with sense "to immerse;" meaning "take soundings with a plumb" is first recorded 1568; fig. sense of "to get to the bottom of" is from 1599. Plumb-bob is from 1835. Adj. sense of "perpendicular, vertical" is from c.1460; the notion of "exact measurement" led to extended sense of "completely, downright" (1748), sometimes spelled plump or plunk.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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