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Theme: Unexpected Meanings in "Little Women"

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May 24, 2010, 11:17
wordcrafter
Theme: Unexpected Meanings in "Little Women"
Words change their meaning over time.¹ One of the charms of reading older works is coming across familiar-looking words being used in unfamiliar ways. This week we’ll take examples of this from Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott. Some usages shown will be odd but recognizable shadings of the familiar meaning; others will be far from the sense we all know.

frail – a basket made of rushes, used for packing figs, raisins, etc. (also, the quantity contained, 30 to 75 lbs.)

¹Several authors have illustrated this by a tale which is so apt that one can almost forgive them the fact that it appears to be pure fiction. Sir Christopher Wren, one of greatest architects in English history, was responsible for rebuilding 51 London churches after the Great Fire of 1666, including his masterpiece, St. Paul's Cathedral, completed 1710. It is said that upon that completion, Queen Anne called Wren’s work "amusing, artificial and awful”. In the language of the day this was high compliment, not insult: the work was “amusing” (engaging the mind pleasingly; interesting), “artificial” (made by art; skillfully made or contrived; cleverly constructed), and “awful” (inspiring awe; sublimely majestic).
May 24, 2010, 18:47
goofy
quote:
Originally posted by wordcrafter:
Words change their meaning over time.¹ One of the charms of reading older works is coming across familiar-looking words being used in unfamiliar ways.


But frail "a basket made of rushes" isn't the same word as frail "weak".
May 25, 2010, 03:06
arnie
That's right. The noun and the adjective are words with differing etymologies:

ADJECTIVE: etymology "Middle English frele, from Old French, from Latin fragilis, from frangere, frag-, to break; see bhreg- in Indo-European roots".

NOUN: etymology: "Middle English fraiel, from Old French".


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
May 25, 2010, 09:41
wordcrafter
quote:
But frail "a basket made of rushes" isn't the same word as frail "weak".
What is "a" word?

Your point is well-taken, but the identical print-appearance creates the same surprise, "same" word or not.
May 25, 2010, 09:42
wordcrafter
Have we descended into a gutter? Today’s word was not always sexual.

promiscuous – making no distinctions; undiscriminating
[Wordcrafter note: In my view the word implies that the activity is both undiscriminating and copious.]More recently:
May 25, 2010, 10:32
arnie
quote:
Your point is well-taken, but the identical print-appearance creates the same surprise, "same" word or not.

Your opening sentence "Words change their meaning over time" causes the reader to believe they have changed; in fact, both meanings have existed in English for centuries, one as a noun, the other as an adjective.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
May 25, 2010, 11:02
Robert Arvanitis
My favorite use of the word, from The Wind and the Lion.

"Eden: And this is your way? Abducting women and children?
Raisuli: I prefer to fight the European armies, but they do not fight as men - they fight as dogs! Men prefer to fight with swords, so they can see each other's eyes! Sometimes, this is not possible. Then, they fight with rifles. The Europeans have guns that fire many times promiscuously and rend the Earth. There is no honor in this - nothing is decided from this. Therefore, I take women and children when it pleases me!"


RJA
May 26, 2010, 06:46
wordcrafter
Dear arnie and goofy,
You're right. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.
May 26, 2010, 06:59
wordcrafter
A kitchen is not just a room.

kitchen – a utensil in which food is prepared [OED]; particularly, “a utensil for roasting meat; as, a tin kitchen” [Webster]
May 26, 2010, 07:35
Caterwauller
Being a life-long fan of the book of this week's words, I have paid particular attention. Today's word struck me as interesting because I couldn't bring to mind what a tin kitchen looked like (and I know some things about old kitchen utensils, having reenacted for years). Upon searching, I've found that a tin kitchen is sometimes also called a reflecting oven.

I'm delighted to discover that I not only know about them, but own one and have used it many times! The second link shows a modern version, while the former shows a more tradtional style. I own one of the former style and have used it for baking cookies, muffins, biscuits and pies aside an open wood fire. It transforms a camp meal into something truly gourmet. Combined with a dutch oven you can make just about any kind of baked goodies you can imagine! *mouth drooling*


*******
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
~Dalai Lama
May 30, 2010, 20:27
wordcrafter
rigmarole – a certain game, and a ”play” in it. (See quotes)affect (verb)– to assume a false appearance of; to put on a pretence of, to counterfeit or pretend

In the home’s library:
May 31, 2010, 02:01
BobHale
I don't know about common usage in the US but over here "affect" is still used that way. I certainly use it that way.


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.

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May 31, 2010, 07:25
goofy
quote:
Originally posted by BobHale:
I don't know about common usage in the US but over here "affect" is still used that way. I certainly use it that way.


I don't use it that way, but I'm aware of it, and the noun form "affectation".