Lock Definition & Etymology

Posted by | Education, Locksmithing, Security Engineering | 0 |

Today’s “ever wonder” article pertains to the word “lock” and its definition from Lockwiki.


“A lock is a device used to restrict access to an area or enclosure. It is the duty of the lock to restrict access until the correct key or combination is used to operate the lock. Most modern locks are a combination of a cylinder and a bolt. There several major types of locks with many high security locks being hybrid designs.”

While this definition serves the purpose of defining the word “lock”, I am left to wonder whether this definition can be improved.  

A google search on the phrase “lock definition” yields:

“a mechanism for keeping a door, window, lid, or container fastened, typically operated by a key.

E.g.  ”the key turned firmly in the lock”

This is a shorter definition, is it better or worse?

Merriam Webster definition is shorter yet.




Definition of lock


a :  a fastening (as for a door) operated by a key or a combination

From Wiktionary


lock ‎(plural locks)

Something used for fastening, which can only be opened with a key or combination.

1883, Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

“Give me the key,” said my mother; and though the lock was very stiff, she had turned it and thrown back the lid in a twinkling.

What is going on here?  As we go from the specialist website that is Lockwiki http://www.lockwiki.com/index.php/Main_Page,

to a general dictionary, the description of this object, the lock, gets less and less clear.

This is probably not a big revelation and we see this occurring in many fields.  One goes from a specialist site to a general one and the description of the object becomes less meaningful.  Is this due to laziness?  Lack of space?  Perceived lack of interest amongst the reader or researcher?

There is another element to be considered and may be explained by examining the etymology of the word “lock”.

Etymology from https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/lock#/editor/14

“From Old English locc. Cognate with Old Norse lokkr (whence Danish lok), German Locke. It has been theorised that the word may be related to the Gothic verb ‎(lukan, “to shut”) in its ancient meaning to curb.”



Or https://www.google.co.nz/search?q=etymology+of+word+lock&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en-nz&client=safari

“Old English loc, of Germanic origin; related to German Loch ‘hole’.”


the lock etymology from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=lock&allowed_in_frame=0

“means of fastening,” Old English loc “bolt, appliance for fastening a door, lid, etc.; barrier, enclosure; bargain, agreement, settlement, conclusion,” from Proto-Germanic *lukan, a verbal root meaning “to close” (source also of Old Frisian lok “enclosure, prison, concealed place,” Old Norse lok “fastening, lock,” Gothic usluks “opening,” Old High German loh “dungeon,” German Loch “opening, hole,” Dutch luik “shutter, trapdoor”). 

Ordinary mechanical locks work by means of an internal bolt or bar which slides and catches in an opening made to receive it. “The great diversity of meaning in the Teut. words seems to indicate two or more independent but formally identical substantival formations from the root” [OED]. The Old English sense “barrier, enclosure” led to the specific meaning “barrier on a stream or canal” (c. 1300), and the more specific sense “gate and sluice system on a water channel used as a means of raising and lowering boats” (1570s). From 1540s as “a fastening together,” hence “a grappling in wrestling” (c. 1600). In firearms, the part of the mechanism which explodes the charge (1540s), hence lock, stock, and barrel (which add up to the whole firearm) “the whole of something” (1842). Phrase under lock and key attested from early 14c.”

This more etymological description, which alludes to an evolution and expansion of the word’s meaning, does more to convey the importance of the word in a number of situations and for multiple objects.  The lock on a canal is related in tangential ways to the lock as a part of a firearm.  The concept of locking or keeping something away from something is also a part of this.  Water is kept away from a section of a canal and jewels can be kept away from thieving hands.

And what about the digital world ? As we become more and more concerned with theft of data, or theft of our identity, the need to  lock something digital or acquire a digital lock, becomes more vital.  

“(computing, by extension) A mutex or other token restricting access to a resource.

2005, Karl Kopper, The Linux Enterprise Cluster

[…] the application must first acquire a lock on a file or a portion of a file before reading data and modifying it.”

And here we see expansion and mutation occurring, etymologically speaking.  Mutex? Token?  


Lock (computer science)

In computer science, a lock or mutex (from mutual exclusion) is a synchronization mechanism for enforcing limits on access to a resource in an environment where there are many threads of execution. A lock is designed to enforce a mutual exclusion concurrency control policy.”

We will next week look at where we are heading with regard to the digital world and locks.  

We will leave you with one important message – knowledge expands with research into the evolution of words and concepts and makes possible the prediction of possible future outcomes that may in rough ways resemble past journeys.

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