Daily Archives: 25 July 2013

Wordcatcher Tales: heeltap, punkah louvre

You never know where you’ll learn a new English usage while traveling abroad. I came across a couple new ones while on vacation in Japan this month.

heeltap sign

Deposit Heeltap & Ice here

An English usage new to me appeared on a trash and recycling receptacle in Cafe Cuore atop Miraishin no Oka, a hill of white Italian marble imported and sculpted by Kazuto Kuetani on the grounds of the Kosanji Temple Museum. The Japanese sign reads nomi-nokoshi ‘drink-leftovers’ and koori ‘ice’, so the meaning was clear enough, but I had not encountered that use of heeltap before. The Kenkyusha Reader’s Plus dictionary in my little Canon Wordtank, however, listed heeltap with two definitions ‘heeled shoes’ and ‘drink-leftovers’.

punkah louvre

Punkah Louvre Instructions

Another phrase new to me appeared in a first-class cabin hallway aboard the NYK Hikawa Maru, a Japanese luxury passenger and cargo ship launched in 1930 to run between Japan and Seattle. It was nicknamed the Queen of the North Pacific, and carried Charlie Chaplin among other famous passengers. It was built to compete with the best at the time, and managed to survive the Pacific War because it was requisitioned to become a hospital ship and because its hull was engineered to withstand heavy northern seas and to stay afloat even after hitting a couple of underwater mines during the war.

From reading about British India, I was familiar with the punkah ceiling fan and the poor punkawallah whose duty was to pull the ropes to keep it in motion while his masters attended to other matters. Wikipedia notes that punkah louvre is used to refer to the air vents in passenger aircraft, but this usage for similar individually controlled air vents in passenger ships looks to be older.

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