Shaft has some delightfully incongruous definitions. It can range in meaning from "a long passageway" to "the body of an arrow or column", and you can also get shafted by taking a bad deal. Well, the last one comes from a 1958 connection of "being impaled", with inapporpriate undertones. We're now left with two elongated, narrow spaces, one full of air and the other of material. Both of these interpretations are connected through that cylindrical similarity and trace to the Old English word sceaft, which meant "long, slender rod". This is generally acknowledged to be from the Proto-Germanic reconstruction skaftaz, with the same meaning; that, in turn, has an unknown origin but is hypothesized to derive from a Proto-Indo-European root sounding like skapos and meaning "stem" or "stalk". The first vulgar noun usage of shaft is from the early eighteenth century, through the meaning of "column".
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard College in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd