oakum

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oakum †tow OE.; fibre obtained by picking old rope XV. OE. ācumbe, ācum(b)a, var. of ǣcumbe, ǣcuma, corr. to OHG. āchambi (MHG. ākambe, ākamp), f. ǣ-, ā- away, off + *camb-, stem of camb and cemban COMB; the etym. meaning is ‘offcombing’.

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oakum loose fibre obtained by untwisting old rope, used especially in caulking wooden ships. Picking oakum was a task formerly assigned to convicts and inmates of workhouses.

Recorded from Old English in the form ācumbe, literally ‘off-combings’, the current sense dates from Middle English.

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oa·kum / ˈōkəm/ • n. chiefly hist. loose fiber obtained by untwisting old rope, used esp. in caulking wooden ships.