What plunger?

My wife and went away for the weekend with friends recently (August 2023) to the Southern Highlands south of Sydney (about a two hour drive). I took the afternoon off and went with our friends to the holiday house. My wife followed us down when she finished work.

I had been in a bit of a rush to get out of the house so only took the basic items as my friend had volunteered to cook. I texted my wife in the afternoon (here is the purpose of this little narrative) to tell her that I was quite disappointed that the house didn’t have a plunger. It caused a bit of consternation, and here is an explanation of why.

Meaning of plunge

Plunge has several meanings—as a verb it means to jump or dive quickly and energetically; or to push or thrust quickly.

Meaning of plunger

So a plunger is somebody who dives of jumps; or something that you push or thrust quickly, particularly a device or part of a machine that has a plunging or thrusting motion (e.g. a piston).

As people, plungers dive into (usually deep) water. They can also be those who acts hastily or recklessly, especially financially, e.g. gamblers or speculators.

As objects, there are quite a few things known as plungers. They can be common household tools for dealing with blocked drains. They can be a tool to set off bombs in war films and by Wile E Coyote in trying to catch the roadrunner. A plunger is a type of coffee maker where you push a mesh down into a glass cylinder to filter the coffee from the grounds.

Different types of plungers

Did you know that there are different types of plumbing plungers for clearing different types of blockages. There are the sink plunger, the toilet (or flange) plunger and the accordion plunger.

The bomb plunger is actually a “blasting machine”. The plunger spins a magneto to generate electricity that detonates explosives. Often, in dramas and cartoons, the explosion doesn’t happen—this is known as the “Where’s the Kaboom” trope.

Coffee plungers

A coffee plunger was first called a French Press. Its origins are unclear with the French and Italians both claiming it.

Frenchmen Mayer and Delforge patented the first very simple design in 1852. But in 1929 Italians Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta patented a French press resembling what we use today.

Faliero Bondanini (Swiss) patented the “Chambord” in 1958. You can easily recognise it by its a glass vessel, steel lid, and round handle of the rod. Chambord was the French town where it was manufactured (in a clarinet factory). Bondanini marketed it as “La Cafetiére Classic” to the UK market which gave the cafetiére its French identity.

Wikipedia suggests that the French press had a boost to its popularity when it appeared in the 1965 Michael Caine film The Ipcress File.

Proprietary eponym

A “proprietary eponym” is a term for common words that are or were proprietary brand names. Examples include Kleenex used as a generic term for tissues; hoovering (or now dysoning) is a used as a generic term for vacuuming; and Googling is used as a generic term for searching the web.

Australians are a long way from where the battle is being played out, but what we see as casual names for coffee plungers are propriety eponyms.

The Danish company, Bodum, became a distributor of the Chambord in Denmark. They bought the rights to the name and factory. However, the “La Cafetiére” trademark was not part of the agreement. Recent legal disputes have seen Bodum and La Cafetiére fight for control of patent designs.

What plunger?

You may have guessed by now that I was disappointed that the house did not have a French press. I am still trying to work out why my wife thought that I would text her to complain that the house did not have a sink plunger (or indeed a bomb detonator).

We are still coming to terms with this miscommunication.