Square pegs in round holes

The expression “a square peg in a round hole” is used to describe a misfit—a person who does not belong in the place or situation where he or she is. I suspect the picture many people have of a square peg in a round hole comes from children’s toys which consist of several objects of different shapes—a square, a circle, a triangle, a star—with a corresponding hole for each object. The objects are carefully sized so that they will fit only through the hole where they are meant to fit.

When I was a boy, I read that carpenters in America often used to put square pegs into round holes. There were several good reasons to do this. I never saw square pegs in round holes, though, until I was an adult. A farmer was giving me and my family a tour of his farm, and he came to a barn that was more than one hundred years old. “And it has never had a single metal nail or screw in it,” he added. I looked, and sure enough: there were square pegs in round holes.

Why would a carpenter put square pegs in round holes? First, it is easier to drill round holes than square holes. Square holes can be made, but that takes much extra work. Second, it is easier to cut square pegs than round pegs. Round pegs can be made, but that also takes much extra work. Third, when they are the right size, square pegs are easier to insert into round holes than round pegs the exact size of the holes. There are four gaps around the square peg as it is tapped into the round hole, so it goes in easily. The corners of the peg are crushed, making a strong bond with the inner surface of the hole. The bond lasts a long time—more than a hundred years, as I have seen with my own eyes.

We all have days when we feel like square pegs in round holes—we feel as if our Maker designed us for one situation and then put us in a completely different place. On those days, we can remind ourselves that square pegs and round holes are meant for each other. They sound like opposites, but they are  successful teams. J.

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