I read a sentence in Word by Word by Kory Stamper which was:

Ask any lexicographer who has been at this gig for a while what word had them hunched over their cubicle at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday, hands clutched to their temples, the office copy of Quirk open on their desk while the night janitor loudly scrummed with the big recycling bin, and the answer will not be a polysyllabic hummer like "sesquipedalian."

I am not able to figure out what the word 'scrummed' mean in this context. Most of the dictionaries say that it is mostly used in the context of rugby game meaning 'jostling'. Any help would be appreciated.

  • 3
    The dictionaries you consulted were correct. Do you have any reason to doubt that jostling was the correct meaning? – Juhasz Jul 12 '19 at 15:32

Generally, it's any situation where people or things pushed aggressively. It is from a part of the game of rugby that looks a little like this.

enter image description here

So in this case, the night janitor was probably pushing the bin across the office in a noisy manner, not particularly making any effort to avoid disturbing anybody. Maybe he was bumping other furniture, maybe even the desk or chair the busy lexicographer was using.

  • This is a good answer, but doesn't saying the janitor "scrummed with" the bin suggest not only that he was making no effort to be quiet, but also that he was struggling a bit? Isn't there some implicit personification going on here – a suggestion that the large bin is so unwieldy that it's almost as if it's actively resisting the janitor's efforts to wrestle it into position? – Nanigashi Jul 12 '19 at 20:48
  • 1
    @Nanigashi And maybe the janitor was wearing a team jersey and those tight shorts. :^) It's a metaphor, not a biography. – puppetsock Jul 12 '19 at 20:56
  • Sure, but it's a metaphor based on the fact that "scrum" means "a usually brief and disorderly struggle or fight," not "a usually brief instance of careless noise-making." – Nanigashi Jul 12 '19 at 21:15
  • @Andrew, in my view, the word fits perfectly; it's clearly meant to indicate that the janitor is wrestling with the unwieldy bin, as if the bin were fighting back. I have no objection to the metaphor, and thus no reason to, ahem, write to the author. I politely pointed out that I think puppetsock's interpretation doesn't quite capture the nuance of this usage, even taking pains to preface my remark with "this is a good answer." You're free to disagree with me, and even to argue that puppetsock's interpretation is the only one possible. But I wish you could do so without the hostile tone. – Nanigashi Jul 16 '19 at 22:16
  • @Nanigashi Yes, perhaps I was too short. Deleted my comment as irrelevant. – Andrew Jul 16 '19 at 22:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.