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Word roots and routes: band, bend, bind

© PhotoDisc / Getty ImagesNext in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary.

What do all the following have in common?
a jazz band
a band of values, prices, ages etc (eg a higher or lower tax band)
a rubber band
a broadband connection
a bend in the road
bending the rules
the binding of a book
a ring binder
being in a bind
a binding agreement
being bound and gagged
two things being bound up with each other
a close bond between two people
a bundle of clothes
a bundle of nerves
a ribbon

Band, bend, bind, bond, bound and bundle are all closely related, and in the above phrases their  meanings are connected with literally or metaphorically tying, restricting, or constraining.

The most basic meaning of band is a strip of material, and one of the uses of a strip of material is of course for tying things together. The use of band in the sense of a group of people, especially a group of musicians, derives from the band of cloth which was worn as a mark of identification by members of a group of soldiers. It also has, perhaps by coincidence, the implication that the members of a band are bound together in a common cause or alliance.

Expressions such as bandwidth, broadband, frequency band, price band, tax band and waveband are extensions of the image of a strip of material; they refer to the range of values between the top and bottom of the band.

Bind is used especially as a verb (past tense and past participle: bound), but if you get into a bind you get ‘tied up’ in a difficult situation which is hard to escape from.

Bond was originally a variant pronunciation of band. It is now used especially for close relationships between people and for legal and financial documents in which someone is bound or tied by a promise.

The connection between bend and band/bind/bond is less obvious. If you are using a bow and arrow (rather a minority activity nowadays!) you prepare to release the arrow by increasing the tension in the string of the bow. As you do this, the string adopts a curved shape, and so bend, which originally meant constraining the string, eventually took on the meaning of ‘curve’.

Other related words include bandage, bundle, bunch (originally a diminutive of bundle) and ribbon. (The second syllable of ribbon is related to band, etc but the origin of the first syllable is obscure).

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Jonathan Marks

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