My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus was inspired by an email from reader Dan Freiberg, who sent me this photo of a bottle of Windex glass cleaner.
“100% Ocean Bound Plastic”
Dan wrote: “To me, this doesn’t mean what I think SC Johnson” — parent company of Windex—“wants it to mean.”
Investigating exactly what ocean bound means led me down some twisty paths. According to a Danish organization called Ocean Bound Plastic, ocean bound plastic—yes, there should be a hyphen in there—is land based, whereas ocean-waste plastic is retrieved from waterways and then recycled. But that was just the beginning, because bound has multiple meanings and at least four unrelated etymologies.
Access to the full column is paywalled. Here’s an excerpt:
The [Ocean Bound Plastic] organization and the campaign may be new, but bound is a very old word with many origins and senses. It’s an excellent example of what linguists call polysemy: the state of having multiple meanings. (The accent in polysemy falls on the second syllable: pah-LISS-im-mee.)
The adjectival bound in “ocean-bound plastic” came into English around 1175 from an Old Norse source, búinn, that meant “ready” or “prepared.” The meaning shifted, around 1400, to “destined” or “intending to go,” as in “homeward bound" or "outward bound" or — as in the title of this column — "bound for glory” (that is, headed for heaven). During the 1800s, this bound acquired a colloquial or dialectal sense of “certain to” or “about to,” as in “the weather’s bound to improve.”
Blog bonus! Have you ever come across the word bounder—perhaps in a 19th-century novel or a 20th-century melodrama? A “bounder” is “a person of objectionable manners or anti-social behaviour; a cad,” according to the OED, which is mysteriously mum about how this colloquialism came to be. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that in the 16th century a “bounder” was “one who sets bounds,” but that doesn’t sound like a cad. The newer sense, first documented in 1882, may be related to bound = leap, as in someone trying to leap into high society. But, says the etymology dictionary, “earliest usage suggests one outside the ‘bounds’ of acceptable socializing”—a bound of an altogether different origin.