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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: 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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Writer’s Quote Wednesday: futilitarianism and the history of time travel

futilityinwriting

Happy Writer’s Quote Wednesday! H.G. Wells was a prolific English writer, who began publishing in my favourite literary decade of the moment: the 1890s. I chose this quote because it opens many doors in the conversation about writing.

First, it exposes a gap in my knowledge. As my 1890s literary research focuses more on Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker, I do not know the source for this quote, nor its context, only that it has been attributed to Wells, which in the supreme irony of Writer’s Quote Wednesdays may render everything I write on this subject futile.

Certainly, my blog post’s effectiveness depends on my success at opening doors in the conversation about writing, which might be misconstrued as a literary ambition steeped in futilitarianism (another fantastic Victorian word).

futilitarian (1827): one who is devoted to futility.

On the surface, Wells’ advice to writers may be read as the familiar: “Write what you know,” which is ironic in Wells’ case because his most successful works weren’t at all about things he knew, but about things that he imagined. It might be argued that Wells knew about Time Travel before he wrote the Time Machine (1895), but can you know about something imaginary?

Certainly, you can know something and not think it is real, and certainly Wells thought so too, or he would have considered his own work futile. By “systematic knowledge,” I don’t think he was talking about the sciences, or systems of government, or some understanding of how things really are, but rather about a familiararity with how the history of an idea is organized.

This is especially true of literary ambitions.

literaryism (1879): a use of language that is particular to writing, like a literary device, or cliché.

Language is not just a means of communicating such ideas, but an idea itself. I don’t think Wells was speaking specifically about the idea of language, though he might have been speaking about the idea of time travel – both of which provide interesting examples of the history of an idea.

The dictionary I am working on traps the history of words that are particular to a period in their context, in terms of their usage at that time. However, any particular word, or phrase, may have meant something else at earlier, or later, dates.

The history of time travel tells us that until at least the eighteenth century the concept of time travel only involved travelling forward in time. Time only moved in one direction. King Raivata Kakudmi in Hindu mythology, the Buddhist Pāli Canon, and Rip Van Winkle, all get preoccupied with some other task (trips to heaven, a very long nap) and find that far more time has passed than they previously thought possible. There was no going back until (debatably) the first Russian science fiction-novel (1836), in which the protagonist rides a hippogriff into the past to meet Aristotle and Alexander the Great before returning to the nineteenth century.

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, time travel happened in dreams, by magic, or by accident without significant consequences for anyone other than the time traveller – until Edward Everett Hale published Hands Off in 1881. Hands Off is the first story to create an alternate history as the result of time travel.

That same year also saw the introduction of a device for time travel in “The Clock That Went Backward” (1881), a story that also presented the first temporal paradox in fiction.

To my mind, this kind of history of time travel is the kind of “systematic knowledge” that Wells likely relied on to write the Time Machine (1895). Familiarity with the history of an idea enriches the writer’s understanding of the idea, enabling them to access the intertextuality within any genre, thereby creating richer texts. I would never argue that writing without knowledge of the genre is futile, but it is hard to imagine a modern time traveller moving through time and space without something like a Police Box.

All of this goes back to why I am writing the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties. I’ve put a lot of work into the historical fiction that I’m writing and see no reason why other writers shouldn’t benefit from my work.

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Mock Turtle Soup and Brain Balls

zombiesoup

Jane Austen’s dearest friend Martha Lloyd once wrote this recipe for mock turtle soup:

Mrs. Fowle’s Mock Turtle Soup:

Take a large calf’s head. Scald off the hair. Boil it until the horn is tender, then cut it into slices about the size of your finger, with as little lean as possible. Have ready three pints of good mutton or veal broth, put in it half a pint of Madeira wine, half a teaspoonful of thyme, pepper, a large onion, and the peel of a lemon chop’t very small. A ¼ of a pint of oysters chop’t very small, and their liquor; a little salt, the juice of two large onions, some sweet herbs, and the brains chop’t. Stand all these together for about an hour, and send it up to the table with the forcemeat balls made small and the yolks of hard eggs.

If you only just skimmed over that quote, you might have missed the part about “the brains chop’t.”

Victorians were crazy for mock turtle soup, which was made from calves’ heads and used actual brains to simulate the texture of turtle meat. The brains were, as Lloyd recommends, chop’t, then formed into balls – called brain balls. Yes, brain balls. I’m not sure which is more revolting to me: the idea of eating a turtle, or the idea of eating brains.

Yet, this was such a popular soup that, in an interview about Campbell’s discontinued soups, Andy Warhol apparently said that their mock turtle (which contained real brain balls) was his favourite.

mockturtlesoup

For more creepy victorian foods, click here.

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Writer’s Quote Wednesday: going Erewhon with Christina Rossetti

ChristinaRossettiQuote

It’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday and you can see by her quote that Christina Rossetti was a poet, not a novelist. I love working on the Dictionary Project, but sometimes I wonder if it would have been better had I never started the novel I’m working on. Then last night, there was a plot twist in a recurring dream I am having about a dystopian post-apocolyptic future. Do I really need to start another project right now? Do I?

As a poet, Rossetti contributed several new words to the English language, including burnishment (a polish for metal) and shallowing (an adjective to describe something, or someone, that is increasingly shallow).

The nineteenth century was a great time for adding words to the English language; more words were added (especially during the second half of that century) than at any other time in the modern history of the language. They also invented dystopian fiction.

Dystopian fiction is utopian fiction’s jealous sister. While utopian fiction puts on a pair of rose-coloured glasses and insists that, if you listen to her, everything will be fine; dystopian fiction doesn’t think things are ok, but is going to show you that things could get worse. The first dystopian novels only problematized utopian fantasies, as in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872), which seems like a utopia at first…

erehwon

Though I’m not sure that Erewhon can really be called the first dystopian novel, it introduced a popular dystopian theme: the tyranny of machines; a theme we are still terrified by to day (think of Stephen Hawking and artificial intelligence). The notion of machines developing consciousness started in Erehwon.

As writers, not starting a work means not exploring certain ideas, which is why – as much as I love Christina Rossetti – I don’t think that not beginning particular works is so sad. I’m glad that I’ve begun the projects I am working on at this time, but should maybe hold off on starting anything about dystopian post-apocalyptic futures until I finish a few other things.

Are you a writer? How many works in progress do you have right now, or at any given time? How many are too many?

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The Victorian Post Office (willing to risk death daily)

TomPostman

In the mid-nineteenth century, postmasters had to swear an oath, like the one above. It was a dignified career, in which one had to post a bond and be responsible to the community in which one lived and served. The postmaster couldn’t be drafted to the army or militia, but could be called upon to work on the roads. People were sometimes recommended for the job by their members of congress. In the larger post offices, postmasters were appointed by the president.

When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be a mail carrier. Give me a pair of shorts, a sunny day, and I will gladly deliver a bag full of birthday cards to everyone in my neighbourhood. (I don’t recall ever wishing I were a mail carrier in winter.)

Victorian postmasters often got their job as some political favour and kept it as a secondary occupation to running a shop, or something. In many parts of the United States, mail was even delivered on Sundays. Though they had to close the post office while church services were going on. Evidently, ministers complained about parishioners leaving church to hang out at the post office and play cards.

Today, you can’t even get the Postal Service on the phone, if you don’t have a 750 character code that contains BOTH letters and numbers. The automated system hung up on me twice today because I only had a tracking number. Evidently, tracking numbers are useless.

Modern postal workers are depicted as mole people, but the phrase “going postal” didn’t exist until 1993, when a Florida newspaper used it as a reference to several cases in which postal workers shot at their colleagues.

There aren’t many things that were actually better in the nineteenth century (moustaches, language, manners, jokes, fashion), but the United States Postal Service was one of them. In many places, the mail came two or three times a day and getting it to you was a sacred duty. Created as the Post Office Department, in 1792, American mail delivery was revolutionary in its approach to changing technology and its commitment to service. They even sought out young men, who were willing to risk their lives delivering the mail.

PonyExpress

Something about email seems to have caused them to simply give up on using new technologies and innovations to get your mail to you sooner. It’s not that new technologies and innovations don’t exist; it’s that the Postal Service isn’t taking advantage of them anymore and it just seems to be giving up, forcing online retailers to take matters into their own hands (Amazon and delivery drones, for example).

I am not surprised to find that the Postal Service has no official creed, or motto.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

…was just the inscription outside the James Farley Post Office in New York.

Even if I lived in a place where it was sunny all the time, there’s no part of me that wants to be a mail carrier anymore. Sadly, I don’t think the people who work as mail carriers want to be mail carriers anymore either.

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Catawampous

catawampous

Catwampous is a hysterical word. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first places it in an 1840 printing of the Spirit of the Times, which was a New York publication. However, lexicographers guess that the word came about as a British lampoon of the way Americans spoke. It has two alternative spellings: ‘cattywampus’ and ‘catawampus,’ which is chiefly American.

There’s something poetic about Americans taking a word that the British used to make fun of them and spelling it differently.

In the OED, the catawampus (with the American spelling) became a fierce imaginary animal, like a crocodile that could fly. If my imagination could magnify the no-see-ums in Florida, they would look like catawampuses.

noseeum2

American dictionaries define the word as askew, awry. Catawampus is messed up. With an O and a British accent it becomes fierce. I recommend it as an intensifier.

Intensifier. a word, especially an adverb, or other linguistic element that indicates, and usually increases, the degree of emphasis or force to be given to the element it modifies, as very or somewhat; intensive adverb.

However, in this case, I still feel it understates how horrible those tiny invisible bugs in Florida are.

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