The Amateur Word Nerd: Don’t get poked through a loophole

By Barbara MacAllister

Word of the Day: Loopholes

With tax season here, you may hear about avoiding expenses by means of a loophole in the tax code. A loophole is an unclear rule or technicality that could be interpreted in more than one way, leaving a gap that allows a way around an issue. It sounds like it might have originated from knitting, but comes from medieval architecture. A loophole is the arrow slit in a castle wall, the narrow openings used by medieval soldiers to shoot at the enemy without being fully exposed. Like the modern-day loophole, it’s a small opening that can be exploited to advantage.
Archery’s importance is ranked by historians alongside the ability to make fire in terms of cultural advancement. Before the invention of gun powder, killing required close contact with spears and swords hand-to-hand. Bows revolutionized hunting and fighting by allowing the over-whelming advantage of killing from a distance. It was England’s principal weapon of defense for several centuries starting around 1066 with William the Conqueror. In the 1200’s, Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes conquered much of the known world from horseback with short, powerful bows.
The distance of a typical bowshot or flight of an arrow became a common unit of medieval measurement before the widespread use of measuring tapes. Courts confiscated a criminal’s property within a bowshot of his home. Highways were prepared for troops by widening passes to a bowshot in width while ancient Roman roads were cleared of trees as wide as a bow shot to prevent robbers from hiding in the woods to surprise travelers, a practice which gave us the word ambush.