The search for the Holy Grail has been an effective metaphor for an epic quest over many centuries. In recent years the search myth has been mined by writers of the Dan Brown ilk, resulting in much gold. But the grail, which in medieval legends was the cup (or the platter) used by Christ at the Last Supper, which was brought to Britain but disappeared after its keepers became impure, and which knight after knight vainly sought (until such worthy seekers such as Percivale and Galahad got on the case), isn't what I'm concerned about today.
Instead, it is another table piece I ponder: the tumbler.
That simple glass, a common, ubiquitous liquid container without stem or elaborate base, called a tumbler in a recent passage I was reading, mystified me - and became a bit of a grail of its own.
After all - I'm sure to the chagrin of many a student of English as a second language - the word "tumbler" means many things. It can refer to an acrobat, for instance. It can be, in former times, a breed of dog used to chase rabbits, or a breed of domestic pigeons that would somersault backward in flight. It can mean the moveable piece in a lock that allows a bolt to be thrown, or the part of an old gunlock that sets off the mainspring. Or it could be the revolving compartment into which newly washed clothes are placed in a dryer.
But all these definitions have to do with the act of tumbling. What does "tumbling" have to do with a mundane drinking glass?
Being the bold knight that I am, I delved into my dictionary. It turns out that the original tumbler was not the simple drinking glass that we all know, but a different kind of drinking glass - a glass that had no base, but had a pointed or convex bottom. If you set it down, it would ... tumble!
Hey, call me Sir Galahad, finder of this particular grail, and join me in a tumbler of mead! Just don't try to set it down on the table.