Tuesday, August 31, 2010

strapling

context: “Sadir laughed and hoisted me up by my arm. He was a strapling of a man, as strong and ropy as a marathoner. I figured him for a rock climber. The mountains had made him ageless – he could have been twenty-five or forty.”

source of quote: Chasing the Sea: lost among the ghosts of empire in Central Asia, by Tom Bissell

Consider this a sequel to my May 26 post. In his book on the great apes Paul Raffaele described a gorilla nest in which the animal had “snapped and bent some striplings together …” In my May 26 post I noted that I was unable to find a definition of stripling that matched Raffaele’s use of the word. A stripling is not a form of plant growth. A stripling is a young man.

Similarly, I was unable to locate a definition of “strapling” that matched Tom Bissell’s use of the word. The urban dictionary offers, “incredibly good at sex,” and gives this sentence for context, “The strapling young lad pleasured her all night long.”

I don’t think the urban dictionary’s definition is the one Bissell had in mind. “Strapling” does not occur at Dictionary.com or in the Microsoft Word dictionary. Perhaps Bissell confused the words “strapping” (“tall and powerfully built,” according to the MS Word dictionary) and “stripling.”

I remember the strange “strapping” from my childhood. It always seemed to occur in a phrase like, “He was a strapping young man.” Thus I assumed it meant “healthy” or maybe good-natured. When I finally cracked a dictionary to see what it said I learned “strapping” was supposed to mean “muscular.” Tom Bissell’s new friend was certainly muscular – and powerful. If Sadir could have been 25, he must have seemed youthful (whatever “ageless” quite means), so “stripling” must have echoed in Bissell’s brain.

Strapling – it’s not a bad coinage. I rather doubt, though, that “stripling” and “strapping” remain familiar enough for their “strapling” offspring to achieve a long life.

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