Saturday, March 16, 2013


A Dictionary of the English Language: in which The Words are deduced from their Originals, Explained in their Different Meanings, And Authorized by the Names of the Writers in whose Works they are found.

That’s the real title – I photographed it so you’d believe me!

The author was Samuel Johnson, A.M. and the publication date of the fourth edition was MDCCLXX – 1770. The covers are full leather, quite distressed; the boards scuffed. The owner was an Eben. Everett, and he signed his name on the title page in November, 1820.

I bought it at a flea market 180 years later for $10.00.

Every now and then, I sit down with a cup of tea or coffee and read a few pages of Johnson’s dictionary. It can be tough sledding: instead of using an “s” when it appears within a word, these funny “f” characters appear – it slows you down when you’re reading.

For example, try this definition: “loathsome. Caufing fatiety or faftidioufnefs.”

Or, “insteep. To foak; to macerate in moifture.”

Say that eight times fast (faft)!

I read it for the words – for the sheer pleasure of finding old words we no longer use, words we have dropped and/or dismissed in favor of more appropriate words; words that have completely different meanings now. I read it to find bizarre Scrabble words: I recently dropped “quaid” onto a Scrabble board, hit a triple word square (for a bijillion points) and then defended my opponent’s challenge by hauling out my 1770 dictionary. He nearly fainted!

Here are some good ones (and I’ve changed the funny f’s):

to accloy  – to fill up, in an ill sense
belly-timber – food
cornage – a tenure which obliges the landholder to give notice of an
invasion by blowing a horn
to daggle – to dip in water
dangler (noun) – a man who hangs around women
denodation – the act of untying a knot
featheredge – boards or planks that have one edge thinner than another
gargarism – a liquid form of medicine to wash the mouth with
to handsel – to use or do any thing the first time
incony  -- unlearned, artless
jannock – oat bread
kirtle – an upper garment, a gown
lackbrain – one that wants wit
to maffle – to stammer
nidorous – resembling the smell or taste of roasted fat
outwell – to pour out
pappy – soft, succulent, easily divided
quaid – crushed; dejected; depressed
to rud – to make red (think about ruddy cheeks!)
simnel – a kind of sweet bread or cake
target – a kind of buckle or shield borne on the left arm
understrapper – a petty fellow
vaccary – a cow house
wafter – a passage boat
yelk – the yellow part of the egg

A couple of them are familiar, in an odd sense: lackbrain, rud, understrapper, yelk; we think we’ve seen them before, and their meanings are clear. But others are foreign, mysterious; the only places you find them today are Shakespeare plays and poetry by Milton or Donne.

Just for fun, sprinkle these into your everyday conversations. Ask your baker for some simnel; tell that annoying neighbor that he’s an understrapper; and, ladies, avoid that dangler at the office...

...let the games begin!

NOTE: I’ll be away for a couple of weeks; when I come back, I’ll have a new hip!

Saturday, March 9, 2013


“You might want to go with boats, water, steamers, piers...” Alan Burnett writes below his Sepia Saturday prompt photo...

Here’s the passenger boat from Boston steaming into Linnekin Bay in East Boothbay, Maine, headed for the public landing on Murray Hill in about 1900. The tide is low, but there’s still enough water for the steamer; there are a couple of sailboats moored in the bay and even a fishing boat tied to one of the floats on the right.

Lots of boats, but it’s that steamer that lifts my heart!

Every summer it carried my grandfather’s family from their home in Boston to Maine; it also transported my grandmother’s family on the final leg of their journey from Tiona, Pennylvania to their summer house on the same shoreline– a trip that involved trains from Tiona to Boston, then the steamer from Boston to Maine.

My grandparents met here in East Boothbay; they courted here, married, then spent every summer of their lives here, bringing their children and, eventually, their grandchildren. We still own a house here – there have been five generations of us to summer on Murray Hill!

This is the old Gould summer home; the young boy sitting on the top step is my grandfather. The house looks amazingly the same in 2013, although there are houses packed close on either side of it now.  

So there you have it: boats, water, steamers, piers.

I’m on board with it...

Check out what other Sepians offer this week:

Saturday, March 2, 2013


It all started Thursday – that annoying tickling sensation in the back of my throat, that funny cough and the slight sniffle – but today, it’s the Real Deal.

I’ve got a cold – not such a big event in this day and age. After all, my local pharmacy has an endless supply of OTC medications from which I can choose, and most of them do a fairly good job of relieving my worst symptoms.

Back at the beginning of the 19th-century, though, things were different. Illness was not taken lightly, and even the common cold made news. Here are a few 1901 East Pittston (Maine) social notes in the Reporter-Journal, the nearby Gardiner newspaper:

Bad colds are raging among the children in this vicinity. Some have not been able to attend school for a few days as the colds are so severe while they last. They come on sudden and some have been as well as usual and attended school one day and be sick in bed the next day.

It seems the adults were falling like flies, too:
Miss Ada Thompson came home from Gardiner, Saturday, where she has been recently employed, and is confined to her bed with a bad cold.

And Ada’s neighbor, Charles Henry Crocker, was next:
C.H. Crocker has been confined to the house for about a week having taken a sudden cold but is now able to be about again.

There were a few cold medications on the market, but I’m not at all sure about how effective (or safe!) they were.  Bayer was making aspirin then, so at least Ada and Charles Henry could take something to relieve the headaches and body pains. (I’m reminded, though, that there were only cloth handkerchiefs – no disposable tissues – can you imagine the laundry issues? And don’t you love the instructions for using the Nasal Tablets? “In solution for gargling the throat or snuffing up the nostrils.”)

At any rate, there’s a lesson for us all here.

When people got colds one hundred years ago, they were a lot smarter than we are today. When they got sick, they went to bed, and they stayed home until they were better.

We should pay closer attention to that, I think.