Word Etymologies: Word Origins and Tools

 "Another term that should interest the student of tools is 'beetle-browed,' defined by the N.W.D. [Webster’s New World Dictionary of the English Language] as 'having bushy or overhanging eyebrows.' All the dictionaries consulted state that the term is derived from the insect. Ernest Klein, in A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, says of the term, 'Of uncertain origin; possibly related to beetle, "insect.”' The hesitation of etymologists to ascribe the term to the insect with certainty is understandable. Beetles (the insects, that is) just do not have bushy overhanging eyebrows.

The source of the term is not far away in a dictionary. Just a few entries away in the N.W.D. one finds 'beetle—1. a heavy mallet, usually wooden, for driving wedges, tamping earth, etc.' What connection does the tool have with bushy eyebrows? It was customary to affix an iron ring around each end of the head of a beetle. In Craigie and Hulbert’s A Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles, the term 'beetle-ring,' defined as a 'a ring placed around the end of a beetle or mallet to prevent splitting,' was found in references dating from 1641 to 1881. After the beetle was used for some time, the wood fibres separated and spread back over the beetle-ring. Here are your bushy, overhanging eyebrows! If one has ever seen a well-used beetle, he will recognize the similarity at once."

“Word Origins and Tools,” inViewpoints, 166-67.