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Can we use these two sentences in place of another:

  1. I've tracked the problem down and found something blocking our way.
  2. I've plumbed the problem down and found something blocking our way.

I am using these sentences in the context of programming stuff.

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Your second example sounds very odd to me. Are you perhaps using "plumbed" to mean "plumbed the depths of"? That wouldn't really be normal usage, except by way of making a little joke about plumbing and blockages. –  FumbleFingers Sep 1 '11 at 18:03
    
That is supposed to mean that I try to find the problem and even I went deeper in the application and found the problem etc. But I am not sure the second sentence would give the meaning I mentioned above. –  Tarik Sep 1 '11 at 18:05
    
And a downvote? I wish you had explained why you gave me downvote which would more helpful. –  Tarik Sep 1 '11 at 18:06
    
Maybe I should get out more, but I've never come across your second usage before, so I think it's not standard English. Therefore I think you should have supplied a link to someone else's usage, if only to prove that anyone apart from you would think to use "plumb" in this way. –  FumbleFingers Sep 1 '11 at 18:29
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The words are similar, but not close enough to be synonyms. To plumb something means:

to try to understand or succeed in understanding something mysterious

This is a very literary usage. Further, if you plumb the depths of something you are saying that:

to be or to experience an extreme example of something unpleasant

I think you're mixing phrasal verbs: to track something down means to go look for something. To plumb something means that you are trying to understand it. But you shouldn't use plumb something down because that is just a mix of the two. So your second sentence should be:

I've plumbed the problem and found something blocking our way.

To plumb something is not likely to be as fully understood as "track". As the dictionary says, it is more of a literary usage. Stick to tracking something down--it will be more understood, which in a programming context is important.

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Having waded through the first couple of hundred written instances of "plumb the" in Google books, the only relevant one I can see is this, which I wouldn't exactly call "literary". I think that dictionary definition is potentially misleading - it's not "literary", it's just a "metaphorical" shortening of "plumb the depths" that avoids the standard "gory details/depths" connotations. –  FumbleFingers Sep 1 '11 at 20:24
    
@FumbleFingers The book you quoted isn't "literary", that's true but I would argue that the dictionary means "not used in everyday language" and looking at the repetition of plumb, it doesn't seem to be everyday language there. Personally I don't like the style of that writer and I would advise against use of this sense of the word plumb because of the potential confusion between its meaning and the strongly diverged connotation in plumb the depths. Outside of that set phrase I would only use the verb plumb to plumb in a sink. –  z7sg Ѫ Sep 1 '11 at 20:54
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@z7sg: My point is that if dictionaries start listing every rare metaphoric usage as a distinct meaning pretty soon every word will mean everything. The "stock phrase" is "plumb the depths", and that itself was somewhat metaphoric even in the nautical sense (you might use a plumb line to establish the depth, but often enough it was a pole anyway). By the time we get to having it mean "understand the deeper significance of", we're well and truly into creative use of language. Not properly the scope of dictionaries unless it becomes a common established idiom, which this ain't. –  FumbleFingers Sep 1 '11 at 21:03
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No. Unless there is some obscure definition, plumb cannot mean track. And wherever the rare plumbed down is used, as far as I can see, it never has the meaning which your example has.

In fact, googling "plumbed the problem down" reveals one result - can you guess what it is?

Plumb is a verb, though, and it can mean [12.] to examine closely in order to discover or understand. So in that sense, you can plumb the situation in order to find a problem, or plumb the problem in order to fix it, but you wouldn't say you were plumbing the problem down.

So the following options would be better:

I've tracked the problem down; something is blocking our way.
I've plumbed the problem and found that something is blocking our way.

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+1 for proving my suspicion that we were being asked to explain why anyone would use "plumb" in this way, when it seems OP is the only person who would! –  FumbleFingers Sep 1 '11 at 18:30
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