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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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Once upon a time…

OnceUponATime

This classic introduction to the modern fairy tale sets a story in the distant past, usually in a land far far away, and changes the tone of everything that follows. It’s possibly one of the most powerful narrative devices in the English language.

After we hear those words, we expect that everything that follows will be whimsical and probably fictional. If a story starts with ‘once upon a time,’ you shouldn’t be surprised if a fairy, witch, or some other magical creature appears. The words ‘once upon a time’ instruct the reader to suspend their disbelief.

It’s as old as the fourteenth century, Chaucer used it and there was a variation in the tale of Sir Ferumbras.  The history of its use parallels the history of the fairy tale itself. In The Wonder of a Kingdome (1636), Thomas Dekker uses it to convey a mode of telling stories orally: “Cannot you begin a tale to her, with once upon a time there was a loving couple…”

The written fairy tale was properly invented in the salons of the next century and the fairy tale, as we know it, was invented the century after that by our beloved Victorians, who took all of the naughty bits out and started saving and creating these stories for children. The Victorians did this to so many stories they had to make up a word for it in 1836:

bowlderize: to expurgate (a book or writing), by omitting or modifying words or passages considered indelicate or offensive; to castrate.

The changes, modifications, and invention of the fairy tale follows shifts in culture socially and economically, like nationalism. Nationalism is also a very Victorian word, which was coined in 1798 to describe a phenomenon that was already underway.

nationalism: Advocacy of or support for the interests of one’s own nation, esp. to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations. Also: advocacy of or support for national independence or self-determination.

The Brothers Grimm were motivated by nationalism. They wanted to protect the stories that were uniquely and historically German from the increasing (even militant) influence of French culture. Before the rise of nationalism, people were generally loyal to their regions. It took the French and American Revolutions to make people think of themselves as devotedly part of a larger national whole, or like they had any role in shaping what belonging to that whole actually meant. Hence, the interest of the Brothers Grimm in creating a record of a distinctly German identity.

Before the Brothers Grimm told their stories, academics were gathering in salons to share fairy stories. These stories were meant for other scholars and were often made up by the scholars themselves. The women, who hosted the salons told stories of aristocratic females, suffering some sort of oppression, who was saved by magic, or came to a terrible end for failing to abide by the social sanctions of her time. Thus, these stories mirrored the experiences of the writers themselves.

Then the industrial revolution happened, which created a new middle class and an idealized concept of what it meant to be a child. Before the industrial revolution, social mobility was a fairy tale of its own (Cinderella), and whole families generally worked together as an economic unit. Children were expected to contribute to the household through labour. The industrial revolution centralized the capitalist system moving labour outside of the home and creating new socio-economic systems.

The Victorian interest in evolution and psychology contributed to the belief that childhood should be a time of personal development, during which one gains the skills they need to successfully contribute to the economic system in adulthood. Consequently, children didn’t need to hear about the real world. Fairy tales were and still are a great insulating tool, especially once the naughty bits are taken out.

What naughty bits do I mean?

In Rapunzel, the witch figured out that Rapunzel had been secretly letting the prince into her tower because Rapunzel was pregnant.

In Little Red Ridinghood, Red and her grandmother obviously die. They were eaten by a wolf! What do you expect?

The original Snow White is a girl of about ten years old, which is way too young. Also, the stepmother asks for the girl’s heart because she wants to eat it.

In Speeping Beauty, the prince does more than just kiss the sleeping princess, and before she awakes, she gives birth to twins.

Today, scholars debate the usefulness of these stories, particularly because we still like to tell them to children. The main argument is that it fills children’s heads with warped ideals of masculinity and femininity. In some cases, stories are modernized, or given a new twist, to make them appeal to modern readers. I spoke about hypermasculinity in my last post.

hypermasculinity

These stories definitely present warped ideas, but if we have to share the story of a warped idea, there may as well be fairies and dragons, or what have you. Maybe a story doesn’t have to be useful.

As Oscar Wilde said, once upon a time:

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

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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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Writer’s Quote Wednesday: An Ode to and from the Necktie

necktie

If you are going to be a man, be a gentleman. Dressing well may be the first step, but there’s clearly more to it than that. The necktie is a great place to start!

The modern necktie, which is to call it a fashion accessory that is popular in the English-speaking world that is forever envious of French taste, the modern necktie evolved from the cravat, which originated in the Thirty Years War (1618–1648). Croatian mercenaries wore identifying ties around their necks that intrigued the French. In naming the new trend, the word “cravat” flowed from a deviation in the seventeenth-century French pronunciation of word “Croates” (French for “Croatian”).

To this day, International Necktie Day is celebrated in Croatia on October 18th.

The necktie brings me to “The Shirt-Collar” (1848), one of my favourite stories by Hans Christian Andersen.

There was once a fine gentleman who possessed among other things a boot-jack and a hair-brush; but he had also the finest shirt-collar in the world, and of this collar we are about to hear a story.

The story takes place after the shirt-collar decides he wants to get married. The chief obstacle that the shirt-collar faces in this endeavour is that he is not a gentleman at all, but a braggart. That, to me, is part of the seriousness of a well-tied necktie. A well-tied necktie shows people you know how to dress well, so that you don’t have to brag about it. A gentleman’s conduct speaks for him, so he has time to listen.

For my poetry class, I was going to write an ode to the necktie, while tying it into Writer’s Quote Wednesday, like I did last week, but I found that someone beat me to it. F.H. published “An Ode To The Necktie” in the Lawrence Journal on 22 August 1945. It was about this time, in the evolution of the necktie, that they started to take on lovely colours, as you can see in F.H.’s description. Still, due to the hot weather, F.H. isn’t happy with his necktie at all and is jealous of women.

Consequently, I’ve thought about the necktie’s reply.

necktiereply

Which brings me to a final point on what it means to be a gentleman: don’t complain. Certainly never try to argue that things are harder for you than they are for somebody else.

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Love Tokens

tokenThis Valentine’s Day, the heroine in the novel you’re writing dutifully cut a lock of her hair and tied it in a bow for her beau. In return, he’s given her some token of his love, but did you know that means he might literally be giving her some token of his love?

Love tokens originated in the 1700s, but were very popular in this sentimental era – especially in the 1880s. The hero in your novel would visit a jeweller, or some other metal worker, and have the coin decorated at the one pictured above. On the reverse, Nellie might find her beau’s initials and the date. To make it more special, Nellie’s beau has included a picture. If he could afford it, he might have embellished her love token further with precious stones, raised enamel, or cut-out designs within the coin.

The tokens might be made of any metal and became souvenirs, or mementos, of a special time. They might be maid out of actual coins, like a nickel or a dime, and they might have a hole punched in them to allow Nellie to wear it on a chain around her neck. The great variety in Victorian love tokens illustrates how they could be given by a beau of any class. One might take a copper coin and engrave it themself.

tokens2

Nineteenth-century Nellie may have given a love token to her best friend, her sister, brother, or any other member of her family. They’re making a comeback and are a popular item on sites that sell handmade goods, like Etsy.

Are you giving someone you love a love token on Valentine’s Day?

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