Word for Wednesday: Stock

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Due to the global economic crisis over the past few years the word stock has been in the news many times and every day millions of stocks and shares are exchanged, often via a virtual listed stock exchange where all of the trading is done over a computer network.

The more I thought about the word stock the more it became a curiosity. Simply by sitting down with a pen and paper I was able to note ten uses of the word:

  1. The goods kept in a shop or business for sale or distribution.
  2. A supply of something collected or available for future use.
  3. Railway trains, carriages and wagons (rolling stock)
  4. A liquid made by cooking bones, meat, fish, or vegetables in water
  5. A plant with fragrant lilac, pink, or white flowers.
  6. A person's ancestry or line of descent.
  7. Part of a gun or rifle held against the shoulder when firing.
  8. Photographic film that has not been exposed or processed.
  9. Farm animals such as cattle, pigs, and sheep (livestock).
  10. A wooden frame with holes for locking a criminal's feet and hands before being exposed to verbal and physical assault by the public.

The word seems to originate from the Old English stocc ‘trunk, block of wood, post’ related to the Old Norse stokkr, Dutch stok and German stock ‘stick’. Interestingly Stockholm the capital city of Sweden developed in the mid-13c. from a fishing village; the first element is either stäk 'bay' or stock 'stake, pole' and the second element is holm 'island'

The use of the word stock as a store or fund arose in late Middle English and is of obscure origin, maybe expressing ‘growth from a central strong stem’ or ‘firm foundation’. 'of stout and sturdy growth' (not weedy) it is recorded from 1620s.

In case you are wondering, the original Stock Market in the mid-14c. was a fish and meat market in the City of London near the site of the Mansion House, so called perhaps because it occupied the previous site of stocks for punishing criminals.

For those of us who descended from honest stock, it seems that certain notorious stock brokers deserve a place in the stocks!

Barry Perks

30 Apr 2014
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