Entries linking to ridgepole
Middle English rigge, from Old English hrycg "back of a man or beast," probably reinforced by Old Norse hryggr "back, ridge," from Proto-Germanic *hruggin (source also of Old Frisian hregg, Old Saxon hruggi, Dutch rug, Old High German hrukki, German Rücken "the back"). OED says "of uncertain relationship;" Pokorny, Boutkan, and Watkins have it from PIE *kreuk-, extended form of root *sker- (2) "to turn, bend."
The original "back" sense, predominant in Middle English, seems to have become archaic 17c. Also in Old English, "the top or crest of anything," especially when long and narrow, based on resemblance to the projecting part of the back of a quadruped, the "ridge" of the backbone. Probably also in late Old English "a long elevation of land, a long, narrow range of hills," implied in place-names. From late 14c. of the highest part of the roof of a building, also the strip of ground thrown up between two plowed furrows. The spelling with -dg- is from late 15c.
Ridge-runner, somewhat derisive term for "Southern Appalachian person, hillbilly," especially an upland white farmer of the Ozarks region, is recorded by 1917 (it later came into use in other regions). Also "person who wanders from place to place," often with a suggestion of illicit intent (1930).
"stake, staff," late Old English pal "stake, pole, post," a general Germanic borrowing (Old Frisian and Old Saxon pal "stake," Middle Dutch pael, Dutch paal, Old High German pfal, Old Norse pall) from Latin palus "a stake," from PIE *pakslo-, suffixed form of root *pag- "to fasten." Later specifically "a long, slender, tapering piece of wood."
Racing sense of "inside pole-fence surrounding a course" is from 1851; hence pole position in auto racing (1904). A ten-foot pole as a metaphoric measure of something one would not touch something (or someone) else with is by 1839, American English. The ten-foot pole was a common tool used to set stakes for fences, etc., and the phrase "Can't touch de bottom with a ten foot pole" is in the popular old minstrel show song "Camptown Races."
"I saw her eat."
"No very unnatural occurrence I should think."
"But she ate an onion!"
"Right my boy, right, never marry a woman who would touch an onion with a ten foot pole."
[The Collegian, University of Virginia, June 1839]
updated on August 16, 2021