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Longshoreman/men, stevedore, sawbuck, vanity fair

Created date

August 24th, 2017
image of a stack of ten dollar bills

If you just handed over a “sawbuck,” you’ve given somebody a ten-dollar bill.

Longshoreman/men

Travel to any major port and you’ll see them. Longshoremen are the lifeblood of the shipping industry. 

They’re the ones who load and unload the massive cargo vessels that carry a huge variety of goods into and out of the United States every day. 

As for the word itself, “shoreman” is clear enough. But what about “long”?

The explanation is really quite simple. 

From the earliest days of the profession, the longshoreman has worked “along the shore.” Around 1805, English speakers began shortening this factual reference into one easy label, “longshoreman.”

“Cargo ships from around the world pull into America’s ports. It’s the longshoreman’s job to offload the goods.”

Stevedore

The “stevedore” is a relative of the longshoreman. While the term is somewhat antiquated, it refers to members of the same profession: those who load and unload ships. 

“Stevedore,” however, comes not from English but Spanish. First used in the late 1700s, the noun “estivador” derives from the verb “estivar,” which literally means to stow cargo. 

An “estivador” is one who loads a ship. In time, English speakers anglicized the term, giving us “stevedore.”

“I used to love going to the city docks to watch the stevedores skillfully shoulder cargo from the ships to the warehouses.”

Sawbuck

If you just handed over a “sawbuck,” you’ve given somebody a ten-dollar bill. It’s an old reference to the commonly used promissory note, and with good reason.

In the early twentieth century, back when monetary notes were truly works of art, the obverse side of the ten-dollar bill included a bright red “X” with the word “TEN” printed over it. Because this characteristic “X” resembled a “sawbuck” (a support used for cutting wood), Americans began referring to the note as such.

Even after the “X” disappeared from the bill’s face, the name it inspired lived on.

“Because I gave the usher a sawbuck, he led us to the best seats in the house.”

Vanity Fair

Today, most of us know “Vanity Fair” as the title of the celebrity and fashion magazine on newsstands across the country. And given its origin, this publication’s name is most appropriate.

“Vanity Fair” comes from John Bunyan’s classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). In the story, there is a town called Vanity wherein the residents have a fair that becomes a symbol of profligacy, ostentation, and hedonism.

Over time, the phrase “Vanity Fair” became synonymous with a fixation on fashion, looks, and material frivolities, hence, the magazine’s name.

“I think fashion shows are little more than empty vanity fairs.”

 

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