words about words

An emery board. It’s used synonymously with nail file, though probably not by manicurists or sticklers, and you may have one in your purse or desk drawer right now. The friction and/or sound of it scraping across your claws may make you shudder. I never thought much about these and rarely use them though I do have some peeking out from the half-dozen pen mugs I have around the house.

I was loading up on craft supplies online one day and noticed something about the “strawberry” attached to pincushions made to look like tomatoes. There is a long tradition of tomato-shaped pincushions. Why a tomato? Isn’t that about the messiest shit you’d want near your sewing? Turns out that a tomato was thought to ward off bad spirits and so superstitious olds would keep a tomato on the mantle. You know cause ghosts are like, “Aw hell naw, I’m not going in that tomato house! Come on, Chuck, let’s haunt the hovel next door.”

So what did the average spirit-fearing middle ages housewife do during the winter? She’d sew up a tomato from cloth! And if she was wealthy enough to own a collection of needles and pins (Ooh! Great song!), the faux-tomato made a handy recepticle.

Where does the strawberry come in? Are tomatoes and strawberries BFFs? Look, I don’t know, they’re both red so could be made from the same scrap of cloth? The whole thing is a bit sus. BUT the strawberry is actually the important bit. The strawberry is a needle sharpener. This much I knew. You plunge a dull needle in the pseudoberry and it comes out with a sharper point. Is it wizardry? No. It’s EMERY. I thought it was a nail file, like the whole unit. But! The strawberry of pincushion fame is filled with emery which is actually a rock! If you coat a popsicle stick with this super small-grained compound of aluminum and iron oxides it behaves like sandpaper. In fact, there’s stuff called emery cloth with is sometimes used in lieu of sandpaper.

Turkey is the number one exporter of emery, and the Greek isle of Naxos is the most ancient. There are even emery, um, deposits (?) found in Peekskill, NY. So now I know and you know!

Bonus: 11 Handy Uses for an Emery Board. (The article gives twelve reasons but one is a metal nail file and not an emery board at all! Look at me, peer reviewing her lifestyle hack!)

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