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.