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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Hoist by my own petard


Last night I experienced first-hand the effects of the the phrase "hoist by his own petard". I hosed up my home office computer system by being impatient and pulling the plug (literally) while it was in the middle of a freeze-up. That's apparently a big no-no. Now it won't boot up at all. So, it's off to the repairman again and having to work on whatever computer I can find.

My father-in-law, before he passed away years ago, used to use that phrase all the time. I go to thinking about what that old phrase actually means and how it got started. My father-in-law had told me that the pitard (the spelling that he used) was (is) a small belaying peg used on sailing ships. In his version, every sailor had his own pitard, which he carried with him to use to belay sail lines. When sailors were occasionally harshly disciplined by being strung up on the yard arms; to add insult to injury, they used the sailor's own pitard to belay the line that they hoisted him with. That certainly seemed appropriate to my situation, as I was blowing in the wind in front of my dead computer.

I also "Googled" the phrase - doesn't everybody Google everything these days - and got a different answer. Apparently a petard (different spelling) was a small explosive device used by invading armies during the Elizabethan age to blow open doors and walls. The engineers who created these and other war engines for the armies were sometimes blown up (hoisted) by the very petards that they had created. Shakespeare even commented on it in Hamlet, act III, scene 4, lines 206 and 207: "For 'tis sport to have the engineer/ Hoist with his own petar...." Again that was a good match for my situation.

So, now I sit in my company office on one of the shared computers trying to get by with just email and access to a few of the applications that I need to do my business. I'll probably spend the rest of the week trying to recover from this experience, since even getting the computer running again doesn't guarantee that I won't have to re-install most of my applications. I'm truly hoist by my own pitard (or petard).

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