• clinch •
klinch • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To hammer back the end of a nail or bolt coming through a plank or slab so as to firmly secure it. 2. To secure, make final or definite, to 'sew up', as to clinch a game with a last-minute play. 3. To embrace or hug so tightly as to hinder movement (especially in boxing).
Notes: Today's Good Word is almost a synonym and homonym of clench. The one meaning that distinguishes clench from clinch is "to hold tightly closed", as to clench a fist or your teeth. Clinch distinguishes itself by having a noun, clincher. This word can refer to a person or tool that clinches nails or a final decisive factor, as a long pass that clinches a win in football—the game-clincher.
In Play: Today this word is used mostly in the second sense above, to secure, make definite: "Wiley Driver clinched the deal with Wobbly Widget Co. by allowing its president to win a game of golf." The third sense is probably the second most frequent use of this word: "Wiley clinched his wife so hard when he told her of his success that he cracked one of her ribs."
Word History: Today's Good Word has an interesting history. It began as clench with the first meaning above. This meaning expanded to simply "secure firmly, tightly" in any sense of the phrase: clench a test, clench a ball game, clench a fist. Now, in several dialects of English the sound represented by E is pronounced like I before N or M. In the southern US, Australia, New Zealand, as well as other English dialect regions, pen is pronounced pin and clench, clinch even today. Mary Jane Stoneburg, a Good Word editor from up north, reports her Southern roommate in college once asked her for a pin. Mary Jane replied, "A straight pin or safety pin?" "One to write with," was the reply. The two dialectal versions of clench, however, have begun to develop different meanings, making them different words. (Let's clinch today's Good Word by penning a note of thanks to Susan Walker for suggesting it.)