Where Does the Word “Lumber” Come From and What Does Lumber Mean?

Originally, the Lombards were a Teutonic people whose earlier name, Langobardi, long beards, was traditionally derived from the appearance, before the god Wotan, of their women with their hair combed over their faces.

Startled, as he awoke from sleep, Wotan asked, “Who are the longbeards (longobardi)?”

They were a warlike tribe, and in the year A.D. 568, with their families and possessions, moved southWard into Italy where they occupied the plains at the head of the’,,Adriatic, a region that became known as Lombardy.

In the fourteenth century, enterprising traders and merchants from Milan and other parts of Lombardy (see also MILLINERY), found it profitable to move westward into England. There, through ingenuity, they became bankers, money-changers, moneylenders, or pawnbrokers.

The three golden balls, still marking a pawnbroker’s establishment, are from the coat of arms of the Medici family, long the chief family of Lombardy. They were so successful in these various enterprises, which then did not greatly differ, that the establishments themselves were popularly called “Lombards.”

From the various spellings employed in the early days, however, the name was usually pronounced lumbard or lumber. The latter became not only the usual pronunciation but also the usual designation of a Lombard pawnbroking establishment, sometimes also called lumber-house.

Thence, because articles placed in pawn often consist of furniture or other cumbersome items that take up space, lumber assumed the meaning, “disused household furnishings.” Thus lumber-house and lumber-room became places for storing such odds and ends. The reason for the American use of lumber instead of “timber” is difficult to determine.

Possibly it derives from a practice of early settlers of storing rough timbers in the lumber-room for drying or until ready for use, although the Dictionary of American English says it “undoubtedly arose from the fact that ship-masts, sawed timber, barrel staves, etc., as important but bulky commodities, once blocked or lumbered up roads, streets and harbors of various towns.”

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