On the Sledge of Your Seat

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ever wonder where the "sledgehammer" got its name?

Back in the old days, it was known that sewage could carry illness, but nobody had yet cracked the germ theory of disease. Instead, people figured that sickness was caused by evil spirits who liked to take up residence in anything wet and slimy (this is also why snakes and other slimy critters have historically been considered evil).

Various methods were devised to get rid of these spirits, like boiling chamber pots, and setting fire to outhouses every six months. For septic tanks, a different strategy was devised. Each week, the head of the household would go outside and beat the septic tank with a "sludge hammer" to scare off any spirits that might be living in the tank's mucky contents.

These sludge hammers were also often used when traveling through swamps to prevent marsh fever. Several strong men would walk ahead of the rest of the party, beating the muddy ground as they walked to drive off any spirits lurking about. Anyone who strayed from this safe path was believed to be at risk for spiritual possession and would therefore be ostracized from the rest of the group. That's why even to this day we use "off the beaten path" to mean "isolated" or "secluded".

These days, of course, the sludge hammer's original purpose has fallen out of vogue, but the tool itself has stuck around. If there's one thing you can say for humanity, it's that we'll always find a use for a giant hammer!

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home