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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.)
    [over-shopping at a fruit and flower vendor:] Jo frowned upon that piece of extravagance, and asked why he didn't buy a frail of dates, a cask of raisins, and a bag of almonds, and be done with it?


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).
 
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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".
 
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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.
 
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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.
 
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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.]
    [housewife’s terrible day is capped when hubby brings home an unexpected dinner guest] Meg cast away her pinafore and precipitately left the field to bemoan herself in her own room. What those two creatures did in her absence, she never knew, but … when Meg descended, after they had strolled away together, she found traces of a promiscuous lunch which filled her with horror.
More recently:
    The transaction offered yet another example of the kind of promiscuous lending that forced the government to rescue Citi the next year.
    – New York Times, Feb. 6, 2010
 
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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.
 
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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
 
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Dear arnie and goofy,
You're right. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.
 
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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]
    Jo's desk up here was an old tin kitchen which hung against the wall. In it she kept her papers, and a few books, safely shut away from Scrabble [the pet rat], who, being likewise of a literary turn, was fond of making a circulating library of such books as were left in his way by eating the leaves. From this tin receptacle Jo produced another manuscript, and putting both in her pocket, crept quietly downstairs, leaving her friends to nibble on her pens and taste her ink.

    … she preferred imaginary heroes to real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter were less manageable.
 
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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
 
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rigmarole – a certain game, and a ”play” in it. (See quotes)
    Miss Kate did know several new games, and as the girls would not, and the boys could not, eat any more, they all adjourned to the drawing room to play Rig-marole. "One person begins a story, any nonsense you like, and tells as long as he pleases, only taking care to stop short at some exciting point, when the next takes it up and does the same. It's very funny when well done, and makes a perfect jumble of tragical comical stuff to laugh over.”
    . . .[later in the game:] "Oh, gracious! What shall I say?" cried Sallie, as Fred ended his rigmarole, in which he had jumbled together pell-mell nautical phrases and facts out of one of his favorite books.
affect (verb)– to assume a false appearance of; to put on a pretence of, to counterfeit or pretend

In the home’s library:
    Jo skipped up, and sitting on the top step, affected to be searching for her book, but was really wondering how best to introduce the dangerous object of her visit. Mr. Laurence seemed to suspect that something was brewing in her mind …
 
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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.
 
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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".
 
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