I saw a TikTok video today of a woman talking about how hard she pronounced the ‘L’ in “caulk” to the man working in the hardware store.
I know exactly what she is talking about. It also made me ponder, why is the alternative word for caulk, at least in the horse world, stud? Those two things kind of sound like they go together, no?
Anywho, whether we are talking caulks, studs or corks what we are really meaning is cleats.
Caulk or Calk and even Calkin
While looking into this word I saw a sentence that read, “Why caulk between studs?” And I have to say that had me puzzled for a few minutes as I was thinking horses, not houses.
The word caulk has been around since the 1500s and it means “to stop up crevices or cracks,” which is what we do when we run caulk around the edge of a bathtub. Caulk goes back to the Latin word calicare, which means “to stop up chinks with lime” and that word stems from the Latin word for chalk, which is calx. As interesting as all this is, it has nothing to do with caulks on horseshoes.
But then I tripped upon this, an alternative spelling to calicare, which is calcare and means “to tread.” And the caulks on our horseshoes are essentially adding tread so the horses wearing them don’t slip.
With a little imagination, I think we can just make out how we got from “stopping up cracks” to giving horses traction, though I do wonder why we use the word as a noun rather than a verb.
What we should say is, “I’m caulking right now, can’t talk.”
What we do say is, “I just dropped a caulk in the shavings. Can you find it? It’s so small.”
The thing with caulks is that often horseshoes come with built-in caulks on the heels of the shoe as is commonly seen in the racehorse world. However, those in the show world will call the screw-in version caulks, too.
But if you are confused about whether to pronounce the ‘L’ in caulk, then you can use the word stud instead.
This word has been in use since the 1400s but in the sense of a “pillar, prop or post.” In the 1500s stud took on a slightly new meaning of “an ornamental device affixed to a surface from which it now projects.” And to be fair that is basically what a stud is when we screw it into a horseshoe. It protrudes and gives the horse traction on a slippery surface. It comes from the Old Norse word stoð meaning “staff, stick, stay,” which works rather well with our meaning.
Stud, in the sense of a male horse kept for breeding, was first recorded in 1803 and has stuck around ever since. The etymology of the word is the same as above, though it may also have come from the Old High German word stout, which means “herd of horses.” A derivative meaning is “a place or thing that is standing,” which is probably why we say a stud is standing at stud on a stud farm. Honestly, I don’t know how we ever understand each other.
Once again, you’ll need to tease our meaning out of all the other meanings as there is rarely a direct answer to these things.
I truly have no idea why this word is used along with caulk and stud. The closest meaning I can find is that in the 1600s cork meant “to stop or check,” which is vaguely similar to caulk, though technically in the horse world, they mean the same thing. And since caulks, studs and corks help to stop a horse from slipping, then I suppose we can go with it.
But this all feels a little tenuous to me.
The obvious word for this situation is cleat, but why would we use a clear word when we can use abstract ones instead? How boring would life be if we did that? Very.
The word cleat was used in the 1300s but with the Old English meaning of “a lump.” When cleat reached Middle English, it was “a wedge of wood bolted to a spar to prevent slipping.” I have no idea what a spar is, but this meaning gets us a little closer to what we are thinking if we focus on the words “prevents slipping.”
In the sense of a cleat in an athletic shoe, well, that definition didn’t arrive until 1904, which in the grand scheme of things wasn’t that long ago.
A Long Long Time
I found a book online entitled Horse-Shoe and Horse-Shoeing: Their Origin, History, Uses and Abuses written by George Fleming in 1869 in London, England that mentions that horseshoes from the third century have been found with “calkins,” which means horses have been studded up for a very long time. And that is indeed interesting.
Whether you choose to use the word caulk, stud or cork it doesn’t matter because horse people will know what you are talking about. However, if you dare branch away from those three words and use the most fitting word of all, cleat, you will likely receive a dubious glare from those around you. For reasons beyond logic, it just isn’t a word we use and that is how we roll in the horse world.