The trades which worked with wood

Do you know the name of the trade that made your furniture? Most people in my country don’t. I can also point at a piece and ask, “where did a wooden table like this come from?” And most of the time they look dazed, ashamed, or simply blank, as if they hadn’t considered that this was a question to answer. “China?” or “a factory?” is the most I’ve gotten from them.

Speaking broadly, we are so alienated from nature and ourselves and each other that we do not know how to identify trees, woods, how even to tell if something is solid wood or is substrate and veneer or if entirely artificial, we don’t know how to use hand tools, machine tools, “those are for the experts! They have certificates to use those! Or like, I don’t know, I’m not really a manual person, I don’t use my hands”, we have such a hollow relationship to our material world that we use materialism as an insult, and we don’t even know the name for the people who DO know those things.

I feel at a loss to close this gaping disconnect, and perhaps even to describe it. I’m a woman, I’m young, I’m a tradesperson, I make furniture and other things from wood, I love book-learnin’, I love my hands, I love my sensitivity, I love my sense of smell, I’ve been at one point the only student in a trades class who enjoyed arithmetic, and at another, the only student in a university class who got the answers wrong, but loudly.

I want to be able to look up terms from my trade on etymonline and find their history. The trades are so rich, our history perhaps as long as humanity, if what defines humans against other animals is tool use. It makes me cry to think of how beautiful the trades are, and yet we’re largely at odds with the textual and intellectual world. I can say that I miss those words from my trade when I look them up on etymonline and they don’t show, but do you over there know that you miss me and the trades worlds?

I haven’t turned over so many rocks. I don’t claim that no one has been both scholastically educated in the modern sense and developed their woodworking - as if either of those are just one thing, haha! But I do want to put out the call. That’s how I can contribute right now.

I want to see the history of words like “cope” include its use in woodworking, I want cabinetmakers and finish carpenters and jointers to be known, and I want the material world to be seen. It is not ugly out here, it is not worth invisibilizing.


if you can get to a Century Dictionary of 1895 or 7 you’ll probably find it has most of the old mechanical technical terminology in it. Or you can write it yourself.

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I’m from the tech team at etymonline.

Tracing a word back to its original source is hard work. There are tons of terms in every industry, which means there is a huge amount of work involved in going back to the source. I can understand where you’re coming from, because in my field of software, there is a huge amount of terminology, and new ones are being created every day.

Discussing it in this forum is a good way to share it. The discussions here are checked on a daily basis, although not all of them are answered and participated in. If a definition doesn’t make it into etymonline, it’s because the dictionary isn’t an industry-specific explanation, but a general account. I believe that if a discussion meets the criteria for inclusion in the dictionary, it will be carefully verified by Doug, and included.

Additionally, we have developed a note feature in the app (and will add it to the web later), so if you have a term in your field of work that you would like to find out where it came from and communicate with the rest of the community, you can post a “public note” under that word.