loose fiber obtained by untwisting and picking apart old ropes, used for caulking the seams of ships.

before 1000; Middle English okome, Old English ācuma, variant of ācumba, literally, offcombings, equivalent to ā- separative prefix (see a-3) + -cumba (see comb1)

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World English Dictionary
oakum (ˈəʊkəm)
loose fibre obtained by unravelling old rope, used esp for caulking seams in wooden ships
[Old English ācuma, variant of ācumba, literally: off-combings, from ā- off + -cumba, from cemban to comb]

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Word Origin & History

"loose fiber obtained from taking apart old hemp ropes," 1420s, from O.E. acumba "tow, oakum, flax fibers separated by combing," lit. "what is combed out," from a- "away, out, off" + stem of cemban "to comb," from camb "a comb;" from P.Gmc. *us-kambon, second element from PIE *gembh- "tooth, nail" (see
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
Perhaps the pounding and twisting of the ship had worked the oakum out of her
  seams or even separated her planking.
Where oakum is used, the unit shall be caulked with this material and then
  sealed with mortar or joint compound.
The increased motion forced out some of the oakum under the turret and water
  started pouring in through the gaps.
Oakum and other types of absorptive materials shall not be used.
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