Mea Culpa: a linchpin to hold it all together

Questions of style and usage in last week’s Independent

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Saturday 30 November 2019 14:11
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The wheel deal: take away the linchpin and eventually the cart won’t work
The wheel deal: take away the linchpin and eventually the cart won’t work

We described the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Nato, as “one of the lynchpins of the liberal international rule-based order” in a comment article last week. It doesn’t matter, but it is interesting that the spelling used to be linchpin. It is a good example of how an obsolete metaphor shifts its spelling to align with a more familiar word.

A linchpin is the pin that holds a wheel on the axle of a cart. If it falls out, the wheel can work itself off the axle. Most people are not familiar with the technology of horse-drawn carts, and are therefore only dimly aware that a linchpin means a part that holds something together.

“Lynch”, on the other hand, is a word that is still used non-metaphorically. It is spelt with a “y” because it is probably derived from the surname of a notorious lyncher in 18th-century America. Hence the increasingly common spelling, lynchpin, recorded by the Oxford dictionary as an alternative.

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