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The etymology of shop cannibalism

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Words are great. Between my broadcasting and publishing careers, I’ve made my living by either speaking them or writing them.

But modern society has decided that some perfectly fine words aren’t good enough – or correct enough – anymore, and have created new ones to give a positive spin to negative things. For example, consider the word swamp and its attendant connotations:

Swamp – mosquitoes, muck, quicksand, poisonous snakes, hot and humid, reeking, malaria, etc.

Now give that word a modern, positive spin:

Natural wetlands area – Oooooh, duckies!

A swamp and a natural wetlands area are the same thing, but its new etymology makes it warm and fuzzy instead of wet and stinky. I guess that’s why cannibals, in the words of Rodney Dangerfield, don’t get no respect. And yet, I must admit that I’m a cannibal.

I recently noted here that my writing assignment schedule has allowed me some shop time I can devote to myself, and for the last week or two I’ve been making some stuff that’s been on my list for years. The first was a small sanding-disc holder with thin shelves forming slots for each grade of paper. I made this entirely with cutoffs from two other projects. I then made a nice wall cabinet for my router bits. (Up to now, they’ve been in a box.) The main carcase of the cabinet was once part of a rolling cabinet designed to fit under a floor drill press. Since I ended up never getting that drill press, the rolling cabinet was useless, so I dismantled it, cannibalized the useful parts, added a door and tossed the rest.

Yesterday I made a wall cabinet for all my cordless batteries and chargers cannibalized from a roughly made shelf unit I’d slapped on the wall five years ago. That rough shelf unit was itself cannibalized from a carrier for 45-rpm records made with nails and butt joints during my Top-40 disc jockey days… 36 years ago! It was a horizontal carrier with dividers then; upending it turned those dividers into shelves. I cleaned up the joinery, added a face frame, sanded and finished it, added a door and hung it back on the wall. It looks great, because when it comes to turning shop junk into good stuff, I am one good cannibal. (As a side note, I’m also a kitchen cannibal – I can turn any leftovers into a brand new delicious meal you would never believe came from leftovers.) 

But for those of you who, when you hear the word cannibal, think of Hannibal Lecter or Far Side cartoons with jungle explorers being stewed in big iron pots, there’s a modern word for what I do. It’s “repurposing.”

I hate that word. It sounds like something a CPA does. For me, “cannibalizing” works just fine.

Till next time,


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