With presidential elections imminent, the first thing I thought of was “stumping” — politicians traveling from town to town speaking to local citizens. In ages past, candidates would stand on a tree stump or some other improvised mini-stage and speak. Today, of course, little is unplanned and or not well-orchestrated. Just leaping up onto a picnic table and speaking from the heart and head without a teleprompter would be unusual. Obviously in the earlier elections, it was important that politicians stump as far and wide as possible, for only spotty newspaper coverage carried their messages.

My next thought for stump was not being able to understand something or figure out a problem. I like puzzles, mysteries, and games. Sad to say, I am often stumped, as I am at the moment with a particularly good “Words with Friends” player. Though I have to work hard to match her level of play, it really raises my level of effort, too.

Because of my English husband and in-law family, I can’t help but include the stumps that ar part of the game of cricket. If the batter allows the ball thrown to hit the stumps, they’re out.

And of course they’re the stump left when a tree is cut down, or a person’s limb is amputated. That last one would be an even sadder a use of the word if it weren’t for the burgeoning development of artificial limbs enabling people to return more normal lives.

When I see some of the words presented for comments in Postaday, I often wonder where they came from. Like many words, this also comes from various old language forms — Middle English (1200’s) and Middle Dutch (1400’s). It wasn’t until the 1800’s that stump came to be used to mean baffle, and around the same time stump was in association with political campaigning. Even with that background, it still fascinates me that one word can take on so many different meanings. Isn’t English marvelous!

 

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