Posted by: Jack Henry | February 4, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Plum or Plumb?

One of you wrote to ask me about a phrase similar to “It’s plum in the middle.” In answering that question, I mentioned that regarding measurements and placement, the word is actually spelled “plumb.” This led to some interesting research, so let’s have a look, shall we? Today’s information is brought to you by Google™ definitions.

plum (noun)

1. an oval fleshy fruit that is purple, reddish, or yellow when ripe and contains a flattish pointed pit.

2. the deciduous tree that bears the plum.

plum (adjective)

  1. a reddish-purple color.
  2. a highly desirable attainment, accomplishment, or acquisition, typically a job.

"he landed a plum assistant producer’s job"

And here is the etymology of plum, which should look a little familiar, since we call the dried version of this fruit by something closer to the original Latin (prunum).

Now for the word plumb:

plumb (verb)

  1. measure (the depth of a body of water).
  • (of water) be of a specified depth.

"at its deepest the lake scarcely plumbed seven feet"

  • explore or experience fully or to extremes.

"she had plumbed the depths of depravity"

  1. test (an upright surface) to determine the vertical.
  2. install and connect water and drainage pipes in (a building or room).

plumb (noun)

1. a plumb bob.
[KC – A little additional information from Wikipedia follows.] A plumb bob, or plummet, is a weight, usually with a pointed tip on the bottom, suspended from a string and used as a vertical reference line, or plumb-line. It is a precursor to the spirit level and used to establish a vertical or horizontal datum.

plumb (adverb)

1. exactly. (Informal)
"a bassoonist who sits plumb in the middle of the wind section"

2. to a very high degree; extremely.
"they must both be plumb crazy"

3. vertically. (archaic)
"drapery fell from their human forms plumb down"

plumb (adjective)

  1. vertical.
    "ensure that the baseboard is straight and plumb"

And the etymology of plumb, which, as you can see, is related to the periodic element for lead (Pb). This might remind you of the word for the person that works with pipes (lead or otherwise), the plumber.

Plumb etymology:

Plumber etymology:

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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