baling » bailing

Chiefly in:   bailing wire

Classification: English – nearly mainstream

Spotted in the wild:

  • If bandages and bailing wire make life a little better, that’s fine. (Theology Today, Oct. 1970)
  • “It was all spit and bailing wire. I should say spit and telephone wire,'’ says Bill Hayward ‘51, a KOCN pioneer as a graduate student. (Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Spring 2001)
  • He “draws” his shadows from old heavy-duty bailing wire used primarily for binding large steel beams before being loaded onto ships. (Rensselaer Magazine, Winter 2003)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • A. Murie (sagehen) on the American Dialect Society listserv, 18 Jun 2005 (link)

These days, _ba(i)ling wire_ is often used metaphorically to describe how a jury-rigged solution is held together. As the original use of the wire for making bales has faded from general memory, so has the original spelling — Googlehits for _baling wire_ are now rivaled by those for _bailing wire_ (about 35K to 20K).

Commenter Sally Cassil notes that the verbs _bale_ and _bail_ are frequently confused:

I have recently seen several references to pilots “baling out” of airplanes, or people having to “bale” water out of a leaking boat. As far as I know, “bale” as a noun refers to a large “package’ of hay, and, as a verb, to the process of getting the hay into such packages. One “bails” out of a plane if it’s crashing, and also bails water from a flooded boat.

| link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2005/06/19 |

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