In Animals, History, Words

Gecko for word of the week

If, like me, you’ve spent years trying to glue the arms back on your kids’ toys or fix the wooden chairs that collapse into match wood every time your Aunty Enid comes round, you’ll no doubt have scoffed at the actions of Extinction Rebellion protesters this week.

Not because you disagree with their cause – who wouldn’t want to make sure polar bears don’t end up having to forage down Oxford Street? – but because we all know that glue doesn’t work.

It’s all very well sticking yourself to a train but as soon as the train starts moving you’ll fall off, sure as eggs is eggs, just as so many handles have fallen off so many glued-together tea cups as you’re lifting the scalding liquid to your lips over your cherished new carpet.

There is a good reason for this: we’re not allowed glues that actually work. If we were, people would be sticking themselves to trains by accident every day. And there are glues that work. The world record for the ‘heaviest weight lifted by glue (non-commercially available)’ is a staggering 16 tons. But we’re not allowed this glue. And that’s probably because there are people like this bloke, who set his own record for eating glue sticks (three, in case you fancy mounting a challenge for the title).

The word ‘glue’ comes from ‘gluten’, which the Romans used for beeswax and other adhesives. The French introduced it to English in the 13th century and guess what, it stuck! Since then, the words ‘glue’ and ‘accident’ have always gone hand in hand.

Remember those ads for Superglue, with the gymnast gluing two ends of a big rubber band together and then bouncing on it on the parallel bars? (If you’re under 40 you can skip this bit). That ad triggered a spate of gluing accidents, usually involving kids sticking themselves to household objects or having household objects stuck to them.

Superglue itself was famously invented by accident. The bloke who invented it, Harry Coover Jr, just wanted to see what would happen if he added an egg to his porridge. Four days later he was still trying to unstick the pan.

And you have to assume that the old animal glues (which most glues were until the 1930s – the epoch of epoxides) were discovered by accident.

“Hey, Neferet, I’ve made this lovely artefact for Tutankhamun’s tomb but I need something sticky to hold it together.”

“I know, let’s boil a horse.”

I doubt that conversation ever happened.

But despite its uselessness for fixing broken things, glue does have its uses. The best one I’ve read about is using PVA to remove a splinter. Simply cover the area with PVA; as it dries it draws the splinter out; when dry, peel off the glue and the splinter comes with it. It almost makes you want to go out and get a splinter just so you can try it out.

And I once patched up a deep cut to my knee with vodka and Superglue, so I could sidestep A&E and go to dinner instead. So it does skill work with human flesh. Which makes me think the Extinction Rebels are missing a trick. Instead of gluing yourself to a politician’s fence, why not glue yourself to the politician? You can go everywhere together, serenading them with strains of Stuck on You by Lionel Richie. That’ll get their attention.

Blob of Superglue on the palm. Quick handshake. Bob’s your uncle. Boris is your conjoined twin.

Just a thought.

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