One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Loose fibre obtained by untwisting old rope, used especially in caulking wooden ships.
- ‘You are losing daylight quickly, picking at the tough fibers that hold the fruit together, unable to separate them as if they were strands of oakum waiting to be picked and untwisted by slaves.’
- ‘Even with the 20 th-century ‘improvements,’ the aluminum wiring was a fire hazard, the potable water supply plumbing was soldered with lead, and the waste lines were hand-tamped with oakum and lead.’
- ‘Remember to use a filler, like oakum, for wide joints before you caulk.’
- ‘The overseers were required to provide oakum so that the able-bodied poor could be kept at labor.’
Old English ācumbe, literally ‘off-combings’. The current sense dates from Middle English.
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