It’s a Cinch

At its heart, English is pretty lazy. Words that mean easy are frequently conflated with those that mean good. We say good when we mean done, and things that are easy are “a joy” or “child’s play”.

The root of easy is the French word aisie, or ease, which betrays our ancestral roots as stressed-out monkeys barely one step ahead of famine and desperate to avoid becoming lion chow.

My favorite is the word cinch. Meaning easy and sure, it usually describes a task that is easy to do well – like walking or sleeping or buying a donut at the coffee shop when you already have your credit card in your hand.

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Cinch has been with us since the mid-19th century, and means an easy way to pull fabric together at the waist. The word comes from the Spanish word cincha, meaning girth, though those who sew will baulk at the suggestion it is easy and sure. My favorite application is the act of cinching together the top of a Shanghai soup dumpling to trap all the deliciousness.

So we know that a cinch is an easy and sure way to make your pants stay up. That’s where the word gets interesting.

To cinch something is also to make sure of it, leaving it in dangerous proximity of its sister word clinch, meaning to hold tight. Then there is clench, which holds both meanings but adds a physical connotation, and clutch, which adds swiftness and movement. No wonder even English-speakers have trouble with the language. Salesmen clench their jaws and clutch your hand to clinch the deal that should have been a cinch.

Easy and sure, indeed.