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Pet names for Poppas

fatherhood

Any reference to the notion of Victorian fatherhood typically brings to mind an image of a distant and sever man. Dr. Julie Marie Strange challenges that image in her new book: Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914″ (2015), and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) supports her findings.

Strange found that Victorian fathers were as hands-on as today’s dads, talked about the same way, and had affectionate relationships with their children. Likewise, the OED indicates that more synonyms for “dad” were created during the nineteenth century than at any other point in history.

The long list of Victorian pet names for dads may simply reflect the fact that more words were created during the Victorian Era, or it could be a reflection of a broader trend in the history of fatherhood. Words like “paw” (1826), “governor” (1827), “pop” (1828) and “bap” (1842) sound overwhelmingly affectionate, leading me to conclude that Victorians must have been talking, reflecting, and writing about fatherhood more than ever before.

But this “more than before” aspect is part of the trend, as Strange’s research found that Victorian dads were being praised as “new men” and better parents than their fathers had been, something every generation of fathers has been told since.

Lost for words to describe how you feel about this? A few more synonyms for dad might help.

da (1851) a pet name for dad in the nursery, or around the house

baba (1863) a way to call one’s father, when speaking babytalk

pops (1893) also used to address a jazz musician

poppa (1897) a pet name for your dad, lover, or husband

Whatever your kids call you now, I hope all the dads out there have a happy Father’s Day this weekend.

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Writer’s Quote Wednesday: cursing and swearing

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 5.04.40 PM

The fact that English speakers have been using the word ‘fuck,’ since the sixteenth century is part of what inspired the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties. Yet, like so many other words, it remains taboo.

According to John Ruskin’s explanation, on this Writer’s Quote Wednesday, one might even go so far as to suggest that the F-bomb is both a curse and a swear word. One would be wrong to do so, but one might try. The word is capable of inflicting suffering, as well as (even simultaneously) making a statement, but that doesn’t mean that the word is or invokes a spirit, certainly not from within the religious context of Ruskin’s life.

John Ruskin, like Thomas Carlyle, George Eliot, Robert Browning, and John Henry Newman, was raised as an Evangelical Anglican, and although he abandoned his earlier religious beliefs by 1858, his thought and writing long retained the mark of his early religion. – The Victorian Web

The very notion of cursing has religious roots, though curse words are obviously quite different from curses, or hexes, but, as Ruskin explains both have roots in the unChristian practice of wishing, or inflicting, harm on another person because, according to parts of the Bible, to do so is to act against God.

Likewise, swear words don’t really have anything to do with swearing an oath (which also has religious roots).

The earliest swear words were identical to curse words — taking the Christian God’s name in vain, or speaking of acts that were considered sinful. – Dictionary.com

While the act of cursing is different from the act of swearing, a ‘curse’ and a ‘swear’ are simple synonyms of explicit language. OMG most people don’t consider taking the Lord’s name in vain a curse anymore and a ‘cuss’ is just an early-nineteenth century bastardization of a ‘curse.’

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Writer’s Quote Wednesday: Mark Twain’s words

HistoryMarkTwain

The above is a picture of what Mark Twain looked like in the 1860s next to the quote I’ve selected for Writer’s Quote Wednesday.

On 15 April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to quell the rebellion that would become the American Civil War. On the same day, four years later, Lincoln would die from a gun shot wound to the head. In the days that followed that, hundreds of people were arrested all over the United States under suspicion of conspiring to kill the president. One of them, Francis Tumblety may have gone on to become Jack the Ripper.

Twain was a deserter of the Confederate side, after serving for two weeks, and claimed to have been ignorant of the politics behind the war when he joined. Later, her reflected that the war was:

“A blot on our history, but not as great a blot as the buying and selling of Negro souls.”

Twain didn’t believe that history repeats it. The idealist in me likes to believe that is because we learn from it, but I do know better. Like each of us individually, we seem to collectively repeat the same mistakes over and over. I confess that I started thinking about the politics behind the American Civil War as I watched the various states taking sides over Indiana and their so-called religious freedom.

NevadaJones

Thankfully, this didn’t start a war, but oh-my-gosh you know you’ve hired a terrible PR firm when the story breaks about you hiring a PR firm to make people stop talking about the embarrassing incident. Sadly, Indiana’s government is happily throwing $2 million at this problem and hoping it will go away, as they sit there, like a bumps on a log, ignoring the ways that its residents are marginalized, discriminated against, and bullied every day for their gender, or sexual orientation.

Incidentally, Twain coined the phrase “bump on a log,” during the American Civil War. It might not rhyme, but there’s definitely a strange poetry to that.

Because it’s April 15th, I feel I should be writing some sort of tribute to Abraham Lincoln. He certainly deserves tribute, but he has many and this is a blog about a dictionary. Lincoln certainly influenced culture and language, but I’ve selected Twain as my author today and his contributions to the English language are manyfold.

He coined so many common terms, like ‘bicentennial,’ or ‘bug,’ as it pertains to eyes, and ‘multibillionaire.’ So, I shall leave you today with a brief selection of Twain’s contributions to the English language.

  1. slim jim: a very skinny person.
  2. poundiferous: characterized by thumping, or pounding.
  3. plunkety-plunk: the sound or action of playing a banjo, or other stringed instrument.
  4. jokist: an actual, or would-be, comedian.
  5. damfool: an idiot, or fool, who is, or should be, damned.
  6. brontosaurian: clumsy, like a brontosaurus.
  7. lunkhead: an idiot, or fool, regardless of their state of damnation.
  8. yawl: a drawn out shout, or the action thereof.
  9. softy: the way I am when I look at my puppy.
  10. slumgullion: roughing it.

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Baby Cake to Patty Cake

oldcake

If you want to learn about a different culture, learn its language. Even if the language is the same, the time and context of otherwise familiar words can change their meaning. At least, this has been my experience when studying French and German, as well as in my investigation of the late Victorian era. That being said, some people will tell you that if you want to learn about a different culture, you have to eat its food.

Victorians loved their cake. The word cake has Scandinavian roots and, in Middle English, described a flat bread roll. The first thing I find, when searching the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) for 19th-century words containing “cake,” is ash-cake, which first appeared in English in 1809 and refers to a cake that is cooked in the ashes of a fire. This recipe was popular in English colonies, where resources were scarce. Looking over that recipe, I think it needs more butter, and then, I want a scone!

Through colonizing the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek People, English-speakers learned to make corn cake, a cake often associated with the American South, which actually belonged to its indigenous people.

“Baby-cake” doesn’t mean what you think it means, but is a seventeenth-century word that was still popular in the nineteenth century and used to describe cakes with a prize baked inside. The prize might be a bean, though I can’t imagine being pleased to find a bean in my cake, but coins were popular hidden treasures as well. I remember my mom baked me a birthday cake like this once when I was a child.

Sponge cake recipes date back to the seventeenth century, but they weren’t called such until one was named after Queen Victoria, who ate them every day! Saturate that cake in alcohol, or cordial, for a chance to use another Victorian word: “tipsy-cake.” If it’s saturated in booze, you’d think it would be properly drunk, but “tipsy” is a more delicate word by a mile.

vanhouten

In 1801, Coenraad Johannes van Houten was born in Amsterdam. He would grow up to be a chemist, who would make chocolate cheaper, saltier, sweeter, and easier to use, introducing Dutch Chocolate to the world and allowing the creation of modern conceptions of chocolate, like chocolate-, or “cocoa-cake,” an 1883 word.

The OED places the coining of the term “pat-a-cake” back to 1883, but, if you view the term as a variation of “Patty Cake,” it goes back to Thomas D’Urfey’s The Campaigners (1698).

Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man, Bake me a cake as fast as you can; Pat it and prick it, and mark it with a B, Put it in the oven for baby and me.

In nineteenth-century American slang, however, “patty cake” referred to the pastry, while “pat-a-cake” described the game played with clapping hands. “Patty cake” might have been used to describe one of America’s greatest inventions, until the term “cupcake” was invented. The first American cookbook writer, Amelia Simmons invented the cupcake with her publication of American Cookery (1796), but Eliza Leslie (also American) coined the term in 1828.

Now, if you will excuse me, I might just go and bake a cake with one of, my friend, Lili’s amazing recipes!

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Writer’s Quote Wednesday: eggcorns wrecking havoc

Hawthorne

Words are wild unpredictable tools. That’s why (no matter how slowly the fundraising is going) I love writing a dictionary. The wild unpredictability of words is why I’ve chosen this Nathaniel Hawthorne quote for Writer’s Quote Wednesday.

Hawthorne is right that words are potent in the hands of those who know how to combine them, but people who know how to use words are like lion tamers because words are still a potent force in the mouths of people who have no idea what they are saying. That’s why we sometimes want to take words back after we’ve said them.

Hawthorne knew this. That’s why he wanted to take his first novel back after he published it. As an older more experienced writer, he no longer felt that Fanshawe (1828) reflected his ability, or his brand, as a writer. Hawthorne went so far as to destroy every copy of the book he could get his hands on. After his death, his wife even denied he had ever written a book by that title.

I also have a first novel that I don’t feel entirely comfortable sharing with the world. It’s a politically-charged drama that was the result of my thesis writing as a student. I only want to write historical fiction now, so I empathize with how Hawthorne must have felt.

On a smaller scale, the wild unpredictability of words causes this kind of embarrassment whenever we have to stand helpless watching an unchecked phrase that we’ve unleashed wreak havoc in the world.

wreak havoc: to cause or effect chaos (1817)

On point, wreak is such a weird word, meaning to cause or effect, as in the definition above. A common eggcorn of the idiom “to wreak havoc” is “to wreck havoc.”

eggcorn: a linguistic term for an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase that also bears a phonetic likeness (1844)

I like to imagine that eggcorn sprung from the use of ear horns, but that’s another story.

eggcorn

The notion of wrecking havoc is so far off of what people are meaning to say with “wreaking havoc” that it actually means the opposite. Havoc means chaosWreak means to causeWreck means to break, or otherwise ruin. Consequently, to wreck chaos would be to end/destroy/break chaos, thereby restoring order.

See why it is so important to know how to combine your words?

Have you ever written/published something you were embarrassed by? Know any good examples of an eggcorn? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Making Demands of the Fisherman’s Daughter

fishermansdaughter

If he wants water

He makes a demand for the

Fisherman’s daughter

About a month and a half  ago, I began participating in WordPress’s blogging university classes. I’ve enjoyed the support and sense of community there so much that I’ve enrolled in a poetry class, just to keep participating. I don’t know how well poetry will work with the dictionary project, but I am willing to give it a try.

Today’s assignment was to compose a water-themed haiku. The literary device we were meant to use was the simile. Fishermans’ daughters don’t seem anything like water to me. I also don’t imagine them as the kind of people who respond kindly to being ordered about. Consequently, I dropped the ball on directly applying a simile to my haiku, and must confess that this is found poetry. It is the example sentence most often sited for the term “fisherman’s daughter,” rhyming slang for “water.”

This sentence was originally composed by D.W. Barrett in Life & Work Among the Navvies (1880). If, after reading this post, you find a use for the term “fisherman’s daughter,” feel free to tell me about it in the comments below.

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Happy Valentine’s Day: Victorian Etiquette Manuals Reinforced Performative Gender Roles

heteronormative

Roses are red/Gender is performative/Mass Market Romance/Is heteronormative

This little gem started circulating throughout my social network last night and I couldn’t be happier.

“Roses are red” gives it a fun Valentine’s Day theme.

The nineteenth century illustrates how performative gender is even if they didn’t know it yet. The Victorian’s obsession with etiquette famously fuelled manuals on how to properly be a lady, or a gentleman.

Look up “homosexual in the OED Historical Thesaurus and the words begin in 1892 with Richard von Kraft-Ebbing’s Psychopathia Sexualis. Though they didn’t have the language to express it clearly, Victorian England periodically had homophobic heart attacks, as is evidenced in the case of Fanny and Stella, a pair of flamboyant trans-women.

Cross-dressing was popular in the nineteenth century and naturally part of the LGBT community. Yes, although they didn’t use that term for it, nineteenth-century England had an LGBT community. Women, like Fanny and Stella, were called “Mollies,” by people in the know, and could meet kindred spirits by frequenting “Molly Houses.”

Other words that emerged for homosexuals in the 1890s included: “Uranian” and “invert.” It was more polite to call your gay friend a “confirmed bachelor.” My other blog has more on the sexual orientation of men in the 1890s.

Lesbians were female “companions,” as in the case of the best-selling novelist, Marie Corelli, and her female companian, Bertha Vyver. People didn’t generally start worrying much about what lesbians were doing until the 1920s. Though, “Sapphism” became a thing in the eighteenth century. This term originated with the Greek poet Sappho who lived on Lesbos Island. All the terms related to Sappho can be traced through the Victorian Era and Wonder Woman comics.

Mass-market romance is still heteronormative even if gender-neutral terms of endearment have permeated our language throughout history. I’m happy to say that the digital era is making everything more democratic and entertaining. This Valentine depicts love between the Hulk and the Beast (of Beauty and the Beast). I love this one with Catwoman and Wonder Woman, but who doesn’t love Wonder Woman?

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