Lumbar - lumber

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Don't confuse the homophones lumbar and lumber (both pronounced 'LUMB-er' IPA: /'lʌm bər/).

  • Lumbar is an adjective, derived from the Latin lumbus 'loin', and referring to the loin - the region of the back between the lowest rib and the hip-bone. The lumbar vertebrae are, in humans, the five sections of the spinal column found there, the 'small of the back'. Like spinal, lumbar in this sense is written with a penultimate '-a-'. The rheumatic pain in that region is called lumbago (pronounced 'lum-BAY-go', IPA: /lʌm 'beɪ gəʊ/). The delicate medical procedure, a lumbar puncture, involves inserting a needle into the spinal cord in the lumbar region, and either drawing off a sample of the spinal fluid or injecting appropriate medication.
    • (There was a type of ship in the Middle Ages known as a lumbar. This term, which can no longer be clearly defined, is totally obsolete - as is the ship.)
  • Lumber' has several different meanings (OED lists four verbs and four nouns), all with various changes in meaning. Most of these have influence on each other.
    • The verb 'to lumber' can be
      • 'to move clumsily', 'to move heavily, clumsily and noisily because of gross size'. This can often be seen in the present participle form, lumbering, used adjectivally to describe a large, heavy and consequently clumsy person.
      • 'to burden with', 'to leave somebody with unwanted possessions' or 'to leave someone else with a reponsibility or problem not properly their own'. This is often used in the construction "he was lumbered with the difficulty of explaining the mess to the authorities."
        • (In slang, this can be applied to leaving property in a pawn-shop, traditionally businesses derived from Lombardy, or among criminals, to being locked up by police.)
        • It is also used, particularly in colloquial Scots, to refer to sexual behaviour of a kind not entirely approved of: 'picking up','feeling up' (caressing intimately), or having (illicit) sexual intercourse with.
    • The non-count noun lumber can be:
      • unwanted, old or surplus material of any kind, such as may be stored away in a lumber-room, more usually called nowadays a junk-room
        • In North America, this word has become the usual word for what British usage calls 'timber' - wood sawn into rough planks, and sold as a basis for further work - to be used in building, for furniture-making or other wood-working crafts. A lumberjack is a person who fells standing timber to be transported to a saw-mill to produce lumber.
      • Until the nineteenth century, 'a pawn-broker's shop'; "The shop or place of business of a 'Lombard'; a bank, money-changer's or money-lender's office; a pawnshop, a mont de piété" (OED).
      • (rare) 'a noise' (perhaps that of a 'lumbering person')
      • colloquial (mostly Scots): 'a casual pick-up'; a prospective sexual partner; the sort of behaviour that might follow.
Don't allow yourself to confuse either of these words with limber.