After I came home from the hospital with my new hip, an occupational therapist came by to check on home arrangements and (oh marvel!) recommend tricks for managing daily life. He looked at the three beds available in the house and pronounced them all utterly unacceptable for me, because they were all too low; we had already worked this out, and I’d been in training for many weeks to become accustomed to sleeping sitting up in a reclining armchair in my living room, a chair that was high enough and could be made still higher by adding an extra cushion.

Then he checked out the bathroom, with some dismay. The shower is in a bathtub with sliding glass doors, so that getting into the shower means stepping over the side of the tub — which was way too high for me to manage at the time (I’m slowly getting close to being able to do this without threatening to damage the hip). And there was no support for me inside the tub.

So, time to get grab bars installed. The o.t. guy gave very specific instructions about the bars, their lengths and placement. And, he added, you should get peened bars, because they give a much better, non-slippery, surface for you to hang on to. Peened?, I asked, fascinated by the word. Yes, peened.

Well, there’s no ordinary English word for this sort of metal surface, so there pretty much has to be a bit of technical jargon.

Peen here turns out to be the verb counterpart of the noun peen in ball-peen hammer, probably the only place ordinary people ever encounter a word peen.

The head of a hammer has a business end (technically, the face), used for things like driving in nails. But then there’s the other end, which is often a claw, used for extracting nails, but can also be a peen. From a Wikipedia article that descends almost immediately into heavy technicality:

The original function of the hammer was to peen riveted or welded material, which makes it as flexible as the surrounding metal.

This function of striking can be served by peens of various shapes (illustrations in Wikipedia), but in particular by a hemispherical peen: the ball peen:

Note that the verb came first; it was then nouned to refer to an instrument for peening. As for the verb, OED3 (Sept. 2005) says rather cagily that it was

Probably the reflex of a borrowing < early Scandinavian

and labels it as

Chiefly Sc. and Eng. regional (north.).

(unsurprising for a word with a Scandinavian origin), with the meaning:

trans. Originally: to beat thin with a hammer, to hammer out; to strike with the peen of a hammer. Now also: to subject (a surface) to the impact of small hard particles, as shot, sand, etc.; = shot-peen vb. at shot n.1

and relevant cites beginning in 1823.

Shot-peening is important for my grab-bar story. From Wikipedia:

Peening is the process of working a metal’s surface to improve its material properties, usually by mechanical means such as hammer blows or by blasting with shot (shot peening). Peening is normally a cold work process (laser peening being a notable exception). It tends to expand the surface of the cold metal, thereby inducing compressive stresses or relieving tensile stresses already present. Peening can also encourage strain hardening of the surface metal.

The older process of banging the hell out of the metal has largely been replaced by blasting it with shot — producing in any case a surface with various desirable properties, including those detailed in some copy from the Moen firm on the Mr. Grab Bar site:

Peened Grab Bars provide an enhanced grip in a soapy situation. Peened Stainless Steel Grab Bars by Moen offer a peened surface which significantly enhances ones ability to grip this bar. A “peened grip” is one that is texturized thoughout the center of the bar thus providing for more gripping power when it is needed most. The peened grip is ideal in situations where ones hands are soapy and wet. The Peened Stainless Steel Grab Bar meets ADA standards and is available in both residential and commercial diameters as well as a wide variety of lengths.

and colors, even. Here’s one in green:

My grab bars will just be ordinary stainless-steel-colored ones, not fashion statements. One is already at the local Ace Hardware, and the other will appear in a day or two (plug here for this excellent neighborhood resource, which my handyman Sid and I are agreed on using, in explicit rejection of the monstrous Home Dept across the freeway).

Now you know more about peening than you ever wanted to.

(Given what the process of peening entails, I’ve been unable to concoct any good puns involving peening and penises (ouch ouch). Pity: the phonology is really good.)

4 Responses to “peened”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Peter Salus in Google+:

    I can see “ball-” < ON bollur as an etymon for ball- in ballpeen. But there's no likely Norse item for -peen.

    That’s what makes the OED entry cagey. Here’s its story:

    Probably the reflex of a borrowing < early Scandinavian (compare Norwegian penne, Norwegian regional penna, pænne (in e.g. pænne uut to hammer out flat), Swedish regional pena, päna (in e.g. päna ut järnet to beat iron thin, to hammer out in length and breadth), early modern Danish pene, pæne (Danish penne, Danish regional pene, pæne) < the Scandinavian base of Norwegian penn peen n.

    So there’s no claim about ON, only the appearance of the verb in assorted Scandinavian vernaculars.

  2. Amy MacEvilly Says:

    Hey, thanks, Arnold. We have a number of these in our house because there was a little old lady owner two owners ago. So now I know how to describe them.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    On ADS-L, Wilson Gray recalled “[ball]pein [hammer]” as the preferred spelling in the Sears and Roebuck catalogue many years ago, and at the time he considered “peen” to be a dumbing down. I haven’t checked this out, but it’s clear that “peen” is now the standard spelling; it’s the *only* one given by NOAD2 and AHD5, for example.

    The OED has a whole slew of alternative spellings over the years. WN3 gives “pein” and “pean” as well as “pean”. But now “peen” has won the day.

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