"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Tuesday, 30 December 2008


"... looking for a (lost) watch and purse on Battersby pipewipes was very like looking for a needle in a bundle of hay." Samuel Butler – “The Way of All Flesh”

A couple of times Butler mentions pipewipes in this book. The context seems to suggest they are unmown land or something of that ilk but I have not been able to find a single definition that fits the bill. (Though I can give you lots of tips on where to buy cloths for cleaning your cannabis pipe!)

Does anyone know what pipewipes were????

And while we are on the subject of words I cannot trace the origin/meaning of - does anyone know what exactly the hob-nails were in hob-nail boots?


  1. I couldn't find anything either. (But I was intrigued and so looked around.) Where's a good lexicon when you need it?

  2. Okay, so my brain (like yours) enjoys a good puzzle.

    Here's some food for thought:
    This summer I visited Bautiquitos Lagoon (San Diego, CA) where we saw salt marshes, which contained... cattails.

    (Does your novel contain marshes or ditches?)

    Marshes are areas of low-lying land that are either permenantly or seasonally ponded or tidally influenced. Marshes often form a transition zone between open water and upland habitats. They are usually dominated by herbaceous vegetation, such as grasses or cattails. The water in a marsh may be either freshwater, brackish, or salt water. At Batiquitos Lagoon, most of the marshes are now salt water marshes.

    Using cattails as a lead, I went to Wiki-pedia and found this:

    Typha is a genus of about eleven species of monocotyledonous flowering plants in the monogeneric family, Typhaceae. The genus has a largely Northern Hemisphere distribution, but is essentially cosmopolitan, being found in a variety of wetland habitats. These plants are known in British English as bulrush, bullrush or reedmace[1], and in American English as cattail, punks, or corndog grass. Cattails should not be confused with the bulrush of the genus Scirpus.

    I grew up on a street that had Bottlebrush Trees (whose blossoms resemble bottle brushes). Pipewipes perhaps resemble pipe cleaners?

    Maybe this will get you closer to the Pipewipes’s meaning. (A common name for bulrush or reedmace?)

    Keep searching!


  3. Maybe this will get you closer to the Pipewipes’s meaning. (A common name for bulrush or reedmace?)

    Equisetum arvense L. (snake pipes)
    Hippuris vulgaris L (paddock pipe) marsh horse-tail
    The bulrush was termed 'reedmace' by botanists until the 1970s, but the common English name 'bulrush’'has since been accepted (4). This robust species grows up to 2.5 m in height, and has linear leaves (2). The most characteristic feature of this plant, however, is the distinctive, dark brown busby-like flowering head (4), known as a 'spadix' (2). The individual flowers are tiny, closely packed and surrounded by slender hairs; female flowers, which produce seeds, are situated towards the bottom of the spadix, the male flowers are located towards the top, and in this species the male and female regions of the spadix are touching (2).

    Reed-mace is called Baccobolts, March or Marish Beetle, Blackamoor, Blackcap, Blackheads, Black-puddings, Bullrush, Bull-segg, Cat-o'-nine-tails, Cat's-spear, Cat's-tail, Cat's-tails, Club-rush, Dod, Dunce Down, Dunche Down, Flag, Flax-tail, Holy Pokers, Lance-for-a-lad, Levers, Livers, Lyvers, Reed Mace, March Pestill, Marsh Pestill, Mat-reed or Mat-weed, Pokers, Seggs, Serge, Son's Brow, Sootipillies, Water Torch, Whiteheads.

    Sootipillies yielded…
    A Dictionary of English Plant-names
    By James Britten, Robert


    which yielded:

    Equisitum – tidy-pipe …. Perhaps Pipewipe?

    (Obviously I have too much time on my hands.) ;-)


  4. Ohhh the irony of it all.

    It was not piPewipes, but a piewipes. (I downloaded the book and could not find pipewipe, though I found lots of pipes.) I found hay, and hence your quote, or perhaps, misquote. A piewipe is a type of bird (a lap-wing). Piewipes I suspect is their nesting area. The passage speaks also of a lark's nest.

    Another book references the cry of a piewipe, and another book references cooking them up! (Roasted bird.)

    I think I've been on a pleasant, inadvertent snipe hunt.

    Hope this helps.


  5. May as well complete my word study on hobnail:



  6. Wow, Don, That is a lot of hard work! In my defence can I point out my printed version of the book definitely has piPewipes. It occurs twice and in both cases is printed with the middle P. There is no clue as to the type of ground but the fact that any search of such ground for a lost watch would be lickely to be unproductive suggests it was not short grass but long and therefore the idea of marshy plants is most probable.
    Interestingly, I've been through the bulrush / reedmace debate before at http://scriptorsenex.blogspot.com/2008/09/bulrush.html
    Thanks again for all your hard work.

  7. I've been thinking in bed (as one does) and the bulrush would be an ideal plant for wiping the inside of one's smoking pipe while the reedmace would be ideal for cleaning out waterpipes.
    As to whether he really wrote piewipe or pipewipe in the original we'll have to resurrect him or find a good medium.

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