_ash pit_

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jul 20 00:12:07 UTC 2011

On Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 5:30 PM, victor steinbok <aardvark66 at gmail.com> wrote:
> I'm going by the definitions in the sources. Ass-hole and ass-pit are
> defined to be holes in the ground where the fireplace and other domestic
> ashes are carried to to dispose of them. This is specifically contrasted
> with dump heaps in some areas, where no hole is dug in the ground for such
> disposal. _I have no idea what an "ash pit" was in St. Louis when you were
> growing up. For all I know, it was a giant dump heap. *This does not change
> the meaning of what I wrote.* In fact, some of the aforementioned glossaries
> list ass-hole, ass-pit and ass-midden all together with a single definition
> (that includes both dump heap and ash pit)._

"Cool it, baby! Don't get up tight!" to quote from (the film version
of) The Pawnbroker.

My only point is that it's difficult to explain what the StL so-called
"ash pit" was when, among other things, it was not any form of pit,
sensu stricto, though it was certainly used to hold the ashes and
clinkers from coal-burning household furnaces. I was merely hoping
against hope that, since you cite the term, you might be familiar with
the StL usage.


The ash pit was an above-ground, rectangular container, perhaps 4'h by
6'w by 5'd, usually constructed of brick, occasionally of concrete,
set at the back property-line of each dwelling, at the alley.

My WAG is that this structure was called an "ash _pit_" because,
historically, it was literally a pit or because it fulfilled the
function of a pit. In addition to ashes and clinkers, all other
non-garbage household detritus was tossed into the ash pit and, if
such was combustible, it was set afire / set on fire.

(There's a reggae album entitled, Catch A Fire. I'd bet that that
title is a misunderstanding of "catch afire," once a non-standard
variant, together with "catch on fire," of older standard "catch
fire."  Nowadays, you hear "catch afire" / "catch on fire" falling
trippingly from any random tongue, at even the highest levels of
discourse. "Catch fire" interfered with by "set NP afire" / "set NP on

Uh, BTW, Victor, I probably shouldn't ask, then, whether you may be
familiar with _clinker_, another object hard to describe to people
when you can't point one out to them.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint
to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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