Date:10/08/2010 URL:
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What is the meaning and origin of ‘plumb the depths'?

(C.T. Raghuram, Bangalore)

The idiom has several different meanings; we'll deal with just two of them here. When you ‘plumb the depths of something', you get to the bottom of it. As a result, you have a thorough or complete understanding of things which other people may find difficult to comprehend.

*Some people are interested in plumbing the depths of the human mind.

The expression is also used to refer to the sad experiences that one undergoes in life.

*When his dog died, Chethan plumbed into the depths of despair.

The idiom comes from the world of sailing. In the old days, when a captain wished to know how deep the water was, he ordered a crew member to drop the ‘plumb line' overboard. This ‘line' was actually a rope to which a ball of lead had been attached. The Latin word for lead is ‘plumbum', hence the expression ‘plumb the depths'.


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