Antedating of "knucklehead" (1938)

Mon Sep 22 03:24:04 UTC 2003

        Might "knucklehead(ed)" be derived from the literal term "knuckle head," part of a railway car coupling?  The earliest use I've seen is from an 1897 patent case:

>>As early as the 29th of April, 1873, a patent was issued to E. H. Janney, No. 138,405, for a car coupler which established a type.   It had a forked draw-head, one arm of which operated as a buffer, and to the other arm was pivoted a knuckle or coupling-head consisting of two arms, one adapted to hook with a similar arm upon a similar coupling-head on a fellow coupler, and the other when the coupling-head was open, swinging out in a position where it would be struck by the arm of the opposing coupler and driven back into a hollow draw-head, there to be latched by a spring latch firmly against the side of the draw-head, and thus holding the outer arm or hook of the coupling-head in engagement with the corresponding hook of the coupling-head of the opposing coupler.   The form may be gathered from the following figures taken from the drawings of the patent.

[Drawing in original] 

  Various improvements were made by Janney on his coupler in the matter of the locking device and the form of the draw-head and coupler, one in 1874, another in 1878, another in 1879, and another in 1882.   On the following page are Figs. 1 and 2 of the drawings of the Janney patent of 1879.   The locking device is a spring latch embracing the tail or inner arm of the knuckle head.<<

St. Louis Car-Coupler Co. v. National Malleable Castings Co., 81 F. 706, 713 (N.D. Ohio 1897).  The 1873 patent does not use the term "knuckle head"; I was unable to check the later patents, as the database is not searchable without a patent number.


There is a 1942 quote in Life (quoted in HDAS) suggesting that "knuckle-head" means thick-skulled.  That would fit in neatly with the literal knuckle-head.

John Baker 

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