Draw - drawer

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The spelling mistake draw to mean a drawer is seen distressingly often - mostly among native speakers of British English. It is a sign of the intrusive 'r', or perhaps a hypercorrection for it. Do not confuse the two words.

  • Draw is mostly an irregular verb, one for which OED records some 89 principal meanings, grouped into 7 families. There are some twelve clearly separate nouns which correspond to some of the verbal meanings. The root meaning is 'to pull' or 'to drag'. OED's "General scheme of arrangement" of the "Signification" is: "I. Of traction ... II. Of attraction, drawing in or together. III. Of extraction, withdrawal, removal ... IV. Of tension, extension, protraction. V. Of delineation or construction by drawing ... VI. refl[exive] and intrans[itive]. Of motion, moving oneself. VII. In combination with adverbs (e.g. draw out)."
    • As a noun, in Present-day English 'a draw' is most commonly used in various sporting senses - technically in cricket, bowls, curling etc; and as the result of a match in which the opponents have equal scores after the end - and as 'an attraction', 'something which draws a crowd'. In cowboy films, a man who is 'quick on the draw' can draw his pistol out of its holster with speed; and a draw is any one of a number of wayts of gambling based on blindly draw'ing one from a number of items - a card from a pack, or a numbered ball from a sack, or a raffle ticket, etc.
  • A drawer is, most simply, 'one who draws', as in the biblical phrase "hewers of wood and drawers of water" (Joshua, ix, 3, 27) to mean 'those [enslaved to be] merely manual workers. In Shakespeare's Henry V, the drawer in the Boar's Head tavern is the man who draws the drink from the various barrels - a 'puller of pints', we might say these days, using the same image. In industry, there are various drawers in different trades: a 'wire-drawer' pulled metal through a die in order to make fine filaments of wire, and a drawer is an obsolete term for what is now called a draughtsman, one who prepares drawings, usually on paper as plans or designs. But the meaning that seems to lead to most of the errors is
    • an open 'box' which slides into, or may be drawn out of, a piece of furniture, such as a desk or table, in which items can be stored. This leads to the common item of bed-room furniture, a chest of drawers - NEVER, please note, a chest of draws.
      • The plural form [a pair of] drawers means a single garment - the undergarment worn at the base of the torso which is put on by inserting the legs into holes and drawing the garment up to the waist. (See also Pair (grammar).) This is an old-fashioned term, and carries connotations of being voluminous, or bulky, warm but not elegant - practical rather than attractive clothes.

'Etymological note': to draw' is cognate with both 'drag' (principally a verb) and 'draught' (principally a noun, sometimes used adjectivally. It may be of interest that the French word to translate a drawer in furniture is tiroir, derived from the verb tirer, 'to pull' or 'to draw', thus sharing the origin and image of the English.