Over the transom

Sometimes, your job just causes you to look things up.  It’s just necessary.  Unavoidable.  Nothing you can do about it. Today, the Oven Glove made me look up the phrase ‘over the transom’.  Why?  Everyone kept using it.  But did I really know what it meant?  Of course not.

Here’s the scoop:

A transom is, basically, any connective piece.  It’s been used with architecture (the cross bar in a window or the bar above a lintel separating a door from a window or a window from another window), shipbuilding (crossbar attached to the stern post), railroads (cross-timbers across sleepers or connecting the sides of a railway carriage), furniture (cross pieces to a head board, the seat of a throne, or a built-in bench in a state room) and to refer to the horizontal part of a cross or  the top bar of a swing or gallows.  So where did this phrase come from?


Do any of you remember those little windows that used to be above interior doors in offices and other places to allow for added light and ventilation?  Basically, that’s where it comes from.  Here’s a picture:

OVER THE TRANSOM – “Kent Dirlam of Greenwich, Connecticut, wrote us: ‘I wonder whether you ever encountered the expression, ‘It came in ‘over the transom.” This goes way back to the early days of the Copper Kings in Montana, when the paying off of legislators and other public officials was not unknown. To avoid observation, contributions were frequently made by tossing packets of banknotes from the hotel corridor ‘over the transom” into the friendly official’s hotel room. Thus the expression, ‘It came in over the transom.’ Thus ultimately came to mean any windfall or expected bit of luck. A transom is simply a hinged window above a door. ‘Over the transom’ has still another meaning in publishing circles. A manuscript that comes to a publisher’s office unsolicited is said to have come ‘over the transom.’.” From the “Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins” by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988)

So originally, it meant a bribe thrown literally through that little window, which was expected and positive, and evolved to the current meaning of an unexpected proposal that may or may not be something we want.  Still, I guess ‘over the transom’ is better than a brick-through-the-window approach to marketing.


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