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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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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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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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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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Snugified!

snuggly2

It’s the weekend, which means it’s time to grab a nice person, pet, or blanket to curl up with and escape the winter blues for a few days. It turns out there were some great Victorian words for that.

If you ‘snugify’ someone, that means you are making them comfortable. If you make yourself comfortable with them, you are ‘snoozling.’

snoozle v. when napping and cuddling happen simultaneously.

‘Spooning’ is also a Victorian word, though it referred to doing a little more than just curling up on your sides back to front. No… not SEX! But sentimentality. Someone who was overly sentimental in love might be called ‘spoony,’ or a ‘spooner.’

‘Mollycoddle’ is another great Victorian word, though it involves more pampering and less lazing about. It’s kind of like snugifying, but involves extras, like snacks, or whatever the person wants. Mollycoddling is the same as spoiling; it just sounds more Victorian.

Wherever you are, I hope you have someone to snuggle with.

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