Board

A student asked whether the words ‘whiteboard’, ‘Australian Cricket Board’ and ‘board a train’ are related. After some checking, the answer is ‘yes’. Originally, a board was any largish, thinnish, flattish piece of wood. You can attach it to a wall and it becomes a blackboard, whiteboard or notice board. You can put legs on it and it becomes a table. You can put food on it and offer ‘room and board’, or just ‘board’, and a boarder can board in your boarding house (or perhaps do other things in your bawdy house, which is a totally different word!). (The food-related meaning came first, and can still be seen in the Swedish word smörgåsbord.) You can sit around it and hold a board meeting in a boardroom, and become a member (or chairman) of the board and make decisions across the board. You can saw it into boards, build a theatre and tread the boards, or build a boat, and be on board, and invite someone else to come on board, and they can board your boat (and you hope they don’t fall overboard), or (later) a bus, train or aeroplane. I hope you’re all on board about ‘board’, but if you think I’ve gone overboard about ‘board’, and are now bored, then that’s a totally different word, too.

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3 thoughts on “Board

  1. Pingback: Ploughman’s board | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

  2. Interestingly, the Gaelic word for “table” is “bòrd”, pronounced roughly the same a “board” is in English (in most places; in others, it can be rendered “borsht”). In class, we typically refer to the whiteboard as the “bòrd-geal” and the blackboard as the “bòrd-dubh”, although I know that the official term for the latter is “clàr-dubh”, “clàr” meaning “flat surface or panel” without being as associated with tables as “bòrd” is.

    Although the Gaelic word for “boat” is “bàta”, the phrase “air a’ bhòrd” means “on (board) the boat”. However, the Irish use the same phrase but have “boat” rather than “table” – “ar a’ bhád” – and it’s pronounced the same way. The first time I encountered the Gaelic phrase in the context of travel, it confused me, because I had previously seen/heard food referred to as being “air a’ bhòrd” – “on the table”.

    In French, “table” is “table” (“taa-bla”, of course), and a whiteboard and a blackboard are called “tableau blanc” and “tableau noir” respectively. In German, the word “Tisch” is used for “table”, while the etymological sibling of the French/English “table”, “Tafel”, is used for a white/blackboard.

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  3. I’m guessing that the Gaelic word is etymologically related to the English one (Germanic and Celtic are ‘sisters’ in the IE family tree). Is “Tisch” related to English “dish”?

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