Arc - ark

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Arc and ark form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these..

The homophones arc and ark are pronounced like the last three letters of 'park' and 'dark' (IPA: /ɑːrk/).

  • Arc may be found as a noun and as a verb.
    • The basic meaning of the noun 'an arc' is the geometric 'part of the circumference of a circle'. Specialized meanings of this concept can be found in Mathematics and Astronomy; in Engineering, it is sometimes used for 'arch', which is derived from the same root, the Latin arcus ('bow', 'rainbow', 'arch', 'curve'). (In French, both 'arc' and 'arch' are written arc, as in the famous Arc de Triomphe, 'triumphal arch', in Paris. The French also call a rainbow arc-en-ciel, 'arc[h] [or 'bow'] in the sky'.) In electricity, an arc is the 'continuous spark' ("luminous bridge" OED, 1885) formed by a strong current passing through a gas (normally air) between two electric terminals.
    • The intransitive verb 'to arc' relates to this last meaning of the noun: it means 'to form an [electric] arc'. This may be unintentionally, when it may be a cause of accidents, such as damaging power surges and fires, or intentionally, when it may be a source of light (as in arc lamps) or heat (as in arc welding). 'To arc' may also be used figuratively to describe motion, for example of a rocket.
  • The central meaning of the noun ark is 'a strong box, chest or similar container'. It was common in northern English dialects to use ark to mean the bin in which a household's flour, bread, fruit etc might be stored. Users of AWE may be interested in two specific examples of Arks usually written with upper case A-, and one usually with a lower case a-, all originating in the Old Testament:
    • the Ark of the Covenant: the wooden coffer, chest or cupboard in which the Jews kept the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments given to Moses;
    • Noah's Ark, the great ship built, at God's command, by Noah to contain one male and one female of each species to preserve them from the great Flood. He and his family were also preserved. This sense of 'a ship' presumably refers to the essential similarity between a storage container and a floating vessel.
    • The ark of bulrushes was a basket waterproofed with pitch in which Moses was placed by his mother to save him from Pharaoh's infanticidal urges (see Moses: the Early Years).
Various vessels have since been described as 'arks', although it is not common. The Royal Navy's flagship in the defeat of the Spanish Armada was Ark Royal (a postpositive use of the adjective); four other vessels have been called HMS Ark Royal, all aircraft carriers.
In the eastern United States, an ark was a temporary vessel used on rivers in the nineteenth century to bring produce down stream. They were essentially rafts, often housing men working with the timber they were bringing down stream, and were broken up at their destination to be sold for the wood, which was included with the timber they were selling