Bloc - block

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The words bloc and block are identical in pronunciation and derivation; they are close in meaning. It is important in writing to distinguish them. Bloc is the rarer, and not often used outside academia. When in doubt, choose the one with the '-k-'.

  • Bloc (sometimes italicized bloc) is the French word from which both English words are derived. (In turn, it came from a common Germanic root blukką 'beam, log'), reflected in Middle Dutch blok, 'treetrunk and Old Dutch blok, 'log'.) Its current meaning is largely confined to 'a group of countries with common purposes and point'. such as the European Union and, bbefore 1991, the Soviet bloc - the countries of eastern Europe which, under the leadership of Soviet Russia, opposed The USA and its allies during the Cold War.
    • Although bloc is now applied to groups of countries, its first use was for other geroups with common purpose, whether political parties, individuals or groups of individuals with shared aims (pressure groups). In 1933, towards the last days of the British Empire, OED gave the definition, with some disdain for foreigners, "[i]n Continental politics, a combination of divergent political parties which supports the government in power. Also transferred, a combination of persons, groups, parties, or nations formed to foster a particular interest. Also attributive, as in bloc vote = block vote. The earliest citation is from 1903.
  • The basic meaning of the noun 'a block' (there is a related verb 'to block') was originally 'a log of wood', and then more generally 'a solid piece [of wood] with a flat[tish] surface on which to work': a butcher cuts meat on his block, and an executioner beheads a condemned prisoner on his; an equestrian mounts a horse from a block, and auctioneers used to sell slaves from the block on which they were displayed. Blocks are also used as reinforcing elements in various forms of construction in wood, such as ship-building, carriage-making and framing; small children use brightly coloured cubes as building blocks - a term used figuratively to denote the components of all sorts of adult projects. Various special blocks exist, such as breeze blocks (cinder blocks or concrete blocks in American English), starting blocks used by sprint runners, and various technical terms in information technology, chemistry (periodic table), geology, medicine and railway signalling, etc. At sea in rigging, and in some forms of lifting devices etc on land, a block is a housing containing one or more sheaved wheels, used to change the direction of the force being exerted, or to multiply its power.
  • Sometimes a block is an obstacle (the primary sense of the verb 'to block' is 'to obstruct'), as in
    • a stumbling block, rarely literal as in a block over which one trips; more often figurative, as in the fact that a certain doctrine may be a stumbling block preventing the adoption of a religion, or a partner and the consequent domestic responsibilities might be a stumbling block to a career.
    • A blockhouse is a fortification designed to prevent hostile access to some place of strategic valuer, usually a narrow route, such as a bridge or mountain pass, etc. In the New World, they were commonly of two or even three storeys, commonly of timber, p;ierced for gunfire.
      • A roadblock is a modern equivalent, being a barrier across a road so that vehicles may be stopped and, for example, searched by police por soldiers.
    • A blockship is an (old) vessel sunk to prevent hostile access, either to the sinker's ports etc (defensive blockship), or to the exit from the hostile ports (offensive blockship).
    • Blocks have special meanings in various games, such as volleyball, draughts, gridiron football, tennis and cricket.
  • By extension, blocks could be less regularly shaped, like the barber's block on which wigs were shaped, or the hatter's block on which hats were moulded. An engine block is the apparently solid mass of metal at the heart of a motor car's machinery; similarly cylinder block and piston block, etc.
  • One set of meanings is to do with large masses in the world. A tower block is a high-rise building, or, in large examples, a skyscraper. Smaller examples may be called a block of flats or office block, etc. A street (or city) block, a concept developed in the regular town-planning of the New World, refers to the buildings in the (usually quadrangular) space between two thoroughfares in one direction and another two at right angles to them. The phrase in block (French en bloc) means 'wholesale', or the totality of the collection of things being assessed being considered together.
  • One group of meanings comes from the generally rectangular flat surface of working blocks. Woodblocks used in printing for illustrations, as woodcuts or etchings, were as flat on the surface as the paper on which they were applied. The same property lies behind such terms as colour block in art criticism to define particular patches of colour within a painting, etc. Block bookings are those which generally result in such a block of colour in the booking plans of a box office in a theatre, cinema, restaurant and so on.
Some informal uses: a person's block is the head; a common slang threat is "I'll knock your block off". In Australia and New Zealand, 'ro lose [or do] your block' is to become angry or excited, to lose your temper. A blockhead, on the other hand, is an unintelligent person - one whose head resembles a solid lump, rather than an organ containing an actively thinking brain. This is a synonym folr numbskull.