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Pushing Things to the Limit

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I feel the need to discuss an issue that’s been bothering me since Saturday night when Jo and I watched the film Man Push Cart. All in all a pretty good film, but I have a small bone to pick. The “man” did indeed have a “cart.” But at no time in the film does he “push” it. It was just a whole lot of really arduous pulling.

The cart wasn’t even designed to be pushed. It actually had a long tongue meant to be hooked to a hitch on the back of a car or truck—for what? Pulling! Our hapless hero had no car or truck, so he was obliged to pull the cart through the New York streets every night to his appointed place to sell his coffee, tea, and bagels. But there just seems to be a problem with our lexicon. We apparently haven’t yet grasped the difference between pushing and pulling. Granted, I’ve never heard of a “pull cart,” but still…

Some years ago my lovely wife, Jo, and I had lunch in a restaurant on the Ohio River which was named [Somebody’s] Tow Boat Grill or Cafe or whatever. Of course, we had to ask, after being seated, just what was a towboat? It was explained to us that the boats one sees in salt water harbours manipulating large ships into and out of port are called—as we all know—tugboats. Why, one might ask? Well, as it was further explained, a tugboat “tugs” or pushes the ships around, whereas towboats are found on rivers and they “pull” their appointed loads.

But wait a minute. Doesn’t the word “tug” evoke images of pulling? Don’t we go to family picnics and invariably play “tug” of war? Aren’t we “pulling” on that rope? Did you ever try to push one? Doesn’t a tow truck pull a vehicle behind it? And I must say, I retain clear images in my mind’s eye of tugboats pulling ships and so called towboats pushing barges.

Also, I recall back during my brief flirtation with flying small planes that there was a particular model which had propellers at both the front and rear of the fuselage, and the flyers I knew referred to it as the “Push Me, Pull You” plane. Now, which propeller pushes and which one pulls? Confusion reigns.

So what’s up with all this? Can one hope to come to a clear understanding of just what it means to be pushing or pulling, tugging or towing? This will no doubt be tugging away at my mind for the rest of the night. I just hope it doesn’t push me over the edge.

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About Baritone

  • Not into pain.

  • zingzing

    it would probably cause damage and significant pain. up to you. depends upon your goals.

  • But, you shouldn’t tug on them, right?

  • zingzing


    late 15c., originally literal, in old anatomy theory “the tendons and nerves that brace the heart;” from heart + string.

  • A bit of corny humor usually tugs at my heart strings. Do our hearts have strings? And, if they do, would it be advisable to “tug” on them? Hmmm. 🙂

  • Capt Steve

    I know corny right, but that’s how I roll!

  • Capt Steve

    It took a small amount of tugging and pulling from my memory bank but glad I could be of help, but it’s time to shove off now and push the comment button

  • Well, I’ll be…

    Thanks for the clarification. When it comes down to it, most of us land lubbers don’t know what the hell we’re talking about when it comes to things watery. Although, I AM a fan of “Deadliest Catch.” Does that count? 🙂

    In a larger sense, I was using a bit of humor, I suppose, to point up some of the vagueries in our language. The push/pull, tug/tow thing just happened to be what stuck in my mind.

    Thanks again, though. No one else thought my little tome even worthy of comment.


  • Capt Steve

    Tug boats are mainly on the lower Mississippi river and open water vessels”blue water”, these “tugs” have a rounded bow and tow from astern with a hauser line or cable. Tow boats are mainly on the inland waterways and have a flat bow which inables the vessel to faceup(lash to with wires) and push the tow and or barges to their destination. This is done due to the narrow channels of the inland rivers and having limited space to navigate. Being able to face-up to the tow allows for more control to navigate tight areas. Most of the harbor(“fleet”) tow boats are referred to as tugs even though they have a flat bow because they are common to use a lock line and or leavin line to pull out barges off large tows and shift barges around using only a pull line, long story short there are many types of boats and you can google and find the differences