Bow (meaning)

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This page is about the various meanings of bow, when it is pronounced to rhyme with 'know', 'go' and 'sow'. See Bow (homographs) for detail about the meaning of bow pronounced in another way (to rhyme with 'how' and 'now'). (You may also want to see Bower for an account of the meanings of some derivatives.)

  • One word, with different applications, rhymes with go and show, IPA: /bəʊ/.
    • The basic meaning of this bow is 'a curve', 'something bent to form part of the circumference of a circle'. In this, it is a Germanic equivalent of the Romantic arc and its derivatives, such as 'arch' and 'archer'.
A rainbow is a compound formed from this: the multi-coloured curve visible in the sky, formed by the refraction of light in water (rain).

From this, various common words are derived:

      • The weapon used to propel an arrow in older warfare and hunting, and modern target sport, consisting of a rigid member, usually of wood or wood reinforced with other material, such as horn, which is curved by means of a bowstring fastened to each end and tightened. This, when further pulled or drawn, stores the energy which propelled the arrow.
      • The similar-looking instrument used by players of stringed [musical] instruments to draw sounds from the strings of the instruments that they play, such as violin bows.
        • The verb 'to bow' is used in this context: it means the action of the player to draw sound from the string[s], and has various developed meanings. An 'up-bow, for example, or up-bowing, is the action when a player pushes the bow away from her own body, where a down-bow is when she pulls the bow back towards herself.
      • A bow window is one that is curved in a particular way - follow the link for more detail.
      • The London district of Bow derives its name from the arched bridge which distinguished the 'Stratford' in Newham from the 'Stratford' in Essex. It is now called 'Stratford'; previously it has been 'Bow', 'Stratford le Bow' and 'Stratford at [or atte] Bow', as mentioned in Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, where he says of the Prioress
And frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly, She spoke French well and elegantly
After the scole of stratford atte bowe, according to the teaching at Stratford-atte-Bow
For frenssh of parys was to hire unknowe for French as they speak it in Paris was unknown to her
      • Bow is also famous for the church of St Mary, whose "great bell of Bow" is one of the bells mentioned in the nursery rhyme 'Oranges and Lemons', and to be born within the sound of Bow bells is the sign of a true Cockney.
      • Bow Street in Westminster has no connection with the suburb; it was named because the street curved. Similar street names exist in many places: the West Bow in Edinburgh, Stonebow in York (the new street which was opened in 1955 was called after a medieval street on the same site, called Le Stainbowe or Stonebow Lane). The Bow Street Runners, an early form of police force, operated out of the Magistrates Office in the Westminster Bow Street. They were founded by Henry Fielding in 1749 - the court had begun in 1740, and closed in 2006: it had heard many cases which were newsworthy, sometimes merely for committal to higher courts, but also the minor offences such as P.G.Wodehouse's young men arrested for knocking a policemen's helmet off on Boat Race Day.
    • In ordinary speech, a bow may be most often used as a shortening for a bow-knot, the usual way of tying shoe-laces. (It is sometimes called a 'shoelace knot'.) Technically, it is a double slippery reef knot. There is also a single bow, with only one loop - it is the loops that give the name bow tie. The bow-knot, with variants, is a frequent decorative item in millinery and dress-making; it also is the method of fastening or tying the bow tie.
    • Archaically, a yoke for oxen (cattle used for ploughing) was called a bow, from its shape; and a saddlebow was one of the semi-circular members by which a saddle is shaped to fit a horse's back.

As a surname, Bow and Bowes are ascribed by Cottle, 1967 to the class of names derived from places; usually one of those named after a curve - perhaps a river bend, or, like Bow Fell in Cumbria from the curve of the ridge; or the stone arch of a bridge, as in Bowes in North Yorkshire.