Often used in architecture to indicate the support pressure formed to sustain an arch or span by another force such as a pier or wall, and in dentistry to refer to the immediately adjacent teeth supporting a dental bridge, abutment is rooted in the French abut, which suggests a limit or the place where ends meet. In Suttree, Cormac McCarthy writes: “As he came about the abutment and entered the gloom beneath the bridge three boys darted out the far side and clambered over the rocks and disappeared in the woods by the river.” A bridge abutment, or the abutment of a dam, is the connection between the metal or cement structure and the river’s bank. There is the sense as well that natural formations—rock arches and natural bridges, for instance—form such a junction with their supporting sidewalls. In Walden, Henry David Thoreau writes: “Once it chanced that I stood in the very abutment of a rainbow’s arch, which filled the lower stratum of the atmosphere, tingeing the grass and leaves around, and dazzling me as if I looked through colored crystal.”

Patricia Hampl