Wringer or Ringer?

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The other day I read an essay in the Washington Post in which a woman describes herself as having been “put through the ringer” with a difficult birth.

I’m always surprised to find an error of this kind in a major publication because I imagine that their owners still employ copy readers.

The idiom intended is “to be put through the wringer,” meaning, “to suffer an unpleasant or difficult experience.”

The verb to wring means “to twist and squeeze.” The forms are wring, wrung, have wrung. The noun form is wringer.

The wringing action is usually to remove moisture from something. My mother’s first washing machine had a wringer attached to it. She fed pieces of clothing between rollers to get as much of the water out as possible before hanging them out on that other old-fashioned piece of laundry equipment—the backyard clothesline.

Wringing one’s hands, that is, clasping and twisting the fingers, is a sign of helpless distress.

Figuratively, one might try to wring an agreement from someone, using persuasive arguments.

A sad story might be said to wring our heartstrings.

Here are some examples:

Johannsen made an attempt to save her orphan girls by wringing permission from Sevret to take them to Harput. –The Armenian Genocide, Raymond Kévorkian, p.348.

[Elsa] wrung her hands piteously, and exclaimed, “Oh, my poor, poor brother!” —Great Opera Stories, Millicent Schwab Bender.

Ameche and Cronyn wring the heartstrings during all the emergency ward scenes.—unattributed movie review.

Wringer‘s homonym ringer has several meanings.

Literally, a ringer can be a person or a device that rings a bell.

Figuratively, a ringer is someone or something that bears a strong resemblance to another person, animal, or thing.

In the context of horse racing, a ringer is a fast horse entered under the name of and in the place of a slower one.

The brewing scandal over whether a “dead” horse had won a race at Belmont could be at least the sixth incident this year involving ringers at race tracks in North America.—from a 1977 article in the NY Times.

Now, if you remember, Jenni was the saucy, bold one in the group whose dark-chocolate mane made her a dead ringer for Catherine Zeta Jones. —article about Jenni Farley in Glamour.

NOTE: The word dead in “dead ringer” is an adjective meaning “utter, absolute.”

In Australian English, ringer has three definitions: the fastest shearer in a shed; a stockman or station hand; a person who excels at an activity.

Finally, ringer has specialized meanings.

In brickmaking a ringer is a long iron bar for handling pieces of iron in a furnace.

In the sport of curling, a ringer is a stone positioned within the circle drawn around either tee.

Capitalized, Ringer refers to “various saline solutions having a composition similar to that of blood serum.” In this use, the word is an eponym from the name of English physician Sydney Ringer (1836-1910).

More meanings for ringer exist, but these will do for now. No need to put ourselves through the wringer trying to include every last one.

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