Drifting along…

I was driving nails into a tight space the other day, so I grabbed a drift, a tool which is simply a metal rod, often called a punch. But why is it called a drift?
Off to the dictionaries: drift is derived from drive, which comes from a root meaning push from behind, a fertile root that drives off in too many directions for me to follow in depth.


     Drift punch

In addition to a drift tool, there's drift in linguistics, in genetics, in plasma physics. There's drift in geology, which is different from continental drift, and in geography, as a South African placename where you ford a river; Rorke's Drift is the scene of a famous battle in the Zulu War. Famous in Britain, anyway.

Drift verbs itself as well, driving aimlessly by current, breeze, whim, or inattention. My car drifts out of its lane,
my boat drifts downstream, or my mind drifts away from — what was
I talking about?

You can aimfully drift a car, too, using power and oversteer, which is how high-speed drivers take their cars picturesquely sideways through turns, and how there are three Fast and Furious films (one of which was called Tokyo Drift).

Our conversation might drift off-topic, unless someone gets the
drift of what we're talking about. Tumbling tumbleweeds drift, too, and
I guess a drifter just gets pushed by the wind, the way driftwood gets
pushed ashore by the currents and waves, and the way the wind makes snowdrifts. Hank Williams had an alter ego as Luke the Drifter, and his band was the Drifting Cowboys. "Drifting Blues" is a Charles Brown song, covered often. The difference between bums and drifters? Motion.

Drifters are also fishing boats that use drift nets. Miners and others use drifters, a type of rock or ground drill that moves — drifts — on a rail feed. A drift is a sideways passage in a mine, related to drift mining, which may all amount to the same thing, going sideways through something rather than down.

From drive — push from behind — we can understand driving cattle, driving nails, and driving Miss Daisy, as well as more abstract uses like driving me crazy or up the wall, or driving my point home or in the ground. One can be driven to succeed (from within) or to despair (from without).

We also get the noun forms, like a drive in the country, which leads to a name for the road on which we drove. A drive can also be a planned event with an intended outcome, like a charity drive, a sales drive, or a blood drive. These all may come from cattle drives, in which large herds were walked to a far-off destination to be sold. A driveway (or driftway) was originally a path to drive animals, whether to pasture, to market, or to traps and slaughter, as the word was commonly used to describe a hunting technique.

A group of cattle or sheep that's been driven to market is a drove, brought there by drovers. (A drove is also a stonemason's tool, which gets us back to the neighborhood of my drift punch.)

I'm unable to find a good explanation for why computer storage devices
started to be called drives, though it seems to have occurred when they
moved from drums to discs in the '50s. A software driver seems more
obvious, in the sense of driving a vehicle, but a disc drive was at first purely a repository, and I don't think it drove anything. Certainly not in the way the warp drive engines propelled the Enterprise through space.

One of my guides tells me drift is to drive as thrift is to thrive, but I'm gonna have to ponder that for a little while.

One thought on “Drifting along…

  1. Ryan says:

    Genetic drift has a similar cousin termed “gene flow”. Both genetic drift and gene flow deal with the change of allele frequency in a population (think eye color or blood type). The difference being one is due to random chance and the other is due to immigration/emigration.
    INTERESTINGLY, or perhaps yet another reason to hate biologists, gene flow is due to movement of people while genetic drift is seen in isolated populations. A good example is a high percentage of type B blood in certain African tribes.

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