Bore

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Several confusions can arise with the word bore. There are several distinct words, with different meanings and word classes, which are written with these four letters.

  • One root meaning (perhaps the commonest among students, unfortunately) conveys the idea of not being interested.
    • The verb 'to bore' means "To weary by tedious conversation or simply by the failure to be interesting" (OED). The past tense and -ed participle are both bored. (For a related homophone, see Board - bored.)
    • The related noun has two uses. One is to name a [type of] person, one who bores. (Very few do this deliberately.) 'A bore' is the sort of person whom people avoid at social gatherings, as their conversation is felt not to have enough interest to let the listener feel that the time is not being wasted. At other times, 'a bore' is used as an abstract noun to describe an occasion that is dismissed as lacking interest or value. This is common in such phrases as "What a bore!" and "Such a bore!" - both indicative of a certain social class, largely dating from the middle half of the twentieth century.
  • A second root meaning conveys the idea of deliberately making holes in materials, mostly by rotating a pointed instrument. (In many of the usages associated with mechanical rotation, bore can be replaced by drill, both as noun and as verb. Dentistry is one notable exception: a dentist may drill decay out of teeth; this is never called 'boring a tooth'.)
    • The verb which carries the second root meaning means 'to make a hole in' - by turning a pointed tool round and round, often with a spiral groove which carries away the waste material cut out. This may be seen most clearly in a 'drill bit'
      • Leatherworkers may bore a hole in a piece of leather with an awl.
      • Wood- and metal-workers bore holes in wood and metal with drills of various sorts, which usually have a removable and renewable point called a drill-bit.
      • Engineers may bore a tunnel (using a tunnel boring machine) for roads, drains or the delivery of services, etc.
      • Geologists may drill (rather than 'bore', usually) a borehole in order to retrieve a sample of the underlying material, or indeed a core which is a stratified sequence of all the rocks (in the Arctic or Antarctic, it may be ice) that lie underneath.
    • The noun originally meant "A hole made by boring, a perforation" (OED - which says that this meaning is 'obsolete or archaic'.) Other words and usages have developed from the meaning of making holes.
      • Boreholes are a form of wells, bringing water to the surface, usually for animals or machinery
      • The bore of a hollow cylinder is the internal cavity hollowed out, in earlier times, by boring a hole. Examples include pistons and guns. The principle of a traditional (mercury) thermometer involves measuring the height to which a column of mercury will rise when constricted in a bore.
      • Smooth-bore guns are those with no rifling in the barrel. (See Gun - rifle.) In modern firearms, these are mostly shotguns, used for killing birds and vermin; formerly, all muskets and cannon were smooth bore.
      • This is extended in some technical uses to mean the measurement of the hollow so formed. To describe a shotgun, for example, as 12-bore is to say something precise about its calibre.
      • The phrase full bore means 'filling the cavity precisely', hence figuratively 'at maximum capacity', or 'full out'.
      • Boring worms and boring insects may be very interesting to entomologists and other biologists; they are called 'boring' because they tunnel through other substances (usually timber). Examples include the teredo navalis, or 'shipworm', which attacks the parts of a wooden hull that are under water, and on dry land, the common woodworm (Anobium punctatum) and the death watch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum). There are also various species of 'bookworms' in the literal sense - we hope that all students are bookworms in the figurative sense; that is, that they read many books, voraciously.
  • When bore is used as a past tense, it belongs to the verb 'to bear'. See also born - borne.
  • There is also a rarer noun bore (more fully a tidal bore). This means a wave that can be funnelled upstream in particular rivers in certain conditions of the tide. The best known in Britain is probably the Severn bore, where high tides reach a height of up to two metres. According to Wikipedia, the largest bore in the world is on the Qiantang River, China, up to 9 metres (30 feet) high: it travels at up to 40 km per hour (25 miles an hour). This, it can be imagined, makes a tidal bore a dangerous thing. It is much more likely to kill than the tedious person you meet socially. There is a similar homophone and etymological curiosity at eager - eagre.
  • There is also a homophone that can also suggest danger: a boar is a male pig. The wild boar is a dangerous animal, to be avoided in the wild - although meat-eaters find it something to look out for on a plate!