WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Grunter

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Grunter

One of my favorite phrases is ‘dab hand,’ and to quote Manuel from Fawlty Towers: “I learned it from a book.” Which also happens to be one of the funniest twelve episodes of television, ever.

But I digress.

I often make one of the characters in my novels a ‘dab hand’ at home medicine. This could be anything from herbal concoctions to poultices and plasters. This is historically accurate: at least one female in a Regency household would have known how to confer simple remedies in a pinch, until a doctor could be fetched or patient transported for care, if on the road.

Grunter

Complain of sickness.

George III Mahogany Medicine Chest, late 18th century, with label printed Ireland & Hollier Apothecaries & Chemists, No. 22 Pall Mall, Family Medicine Chests compleat [sic] and Genuine Patent Medicines &c, sold at Sotheby’s in 2017.

So what would those with a dab hand dispense? After heading to their still room, where all their ingredients would be stored, they’d brew, grind, or compound some easy to swallow (elderberry syrup), and some not-so-easy-to-swallow creations:

Take pearls, crab’s-eyes, red coral, white amber, burnt hartshorn, and oriental bezoar, of each half an ounce; the black tips of crabs-claws three ounces; make all into a paste, with a jelly of vipers, and roll it into little balls, which dry and keep for use.
(from The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion, 15th edition, 1753, compiled by Eliza Smith, as reported at Jane Austen’s World)

19th Century Traveling Apothecary Medicine Chest, containing 10 glass bottles and original scales, sold at Auctions at Showplace in 2017.

Also according to Jane Austen’s World – from The Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run – here are the myriad ways an herbal remedy may be prepared:

Infusion: A liquid made by soaking an herb – usually its dried leaves or flowers – in liquid. An herbal tea is really an infusion.
Decoction: A liquid made by boiling an herb.
Poultice: A soft, moist mass of bread, meal, herbs, etc. applied to the body.
Plaister: A solid or semi solid remedy, spread on cloth or leather and applied to the body.
Electuary: Powder dried herb and mix with three times as much honey.
Oil: Fresh or dried herb is soaked in oil to extract the essences of the herb. Usually applied externally.
Ointment: Fresh or dried herb is soaked in lard to extract the essences of the herb, then mixed with beeswax and turpentine. Applied externally.

Mahogany Regency Medicine Cabinet with 23 medicine bottles, circa 1820, from Richard Gardner Antiques.

The handy housewife, well-trained housekeeper, or bluestocking daughter (otherwise known as a spinster-in-the-making) could make things such as “bottles of saline draughts, barley-water, lemonade, jars of calves’ foot or pork jelly, as well as blisters and plasters,” according to Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher. Surely being fed calves’ foot jelly was the source of the idiom the cure is worse than the disease.

To procure the more potent medicines, you’d need to consult an apothecary or doctor, although potent didn’t necessarily mean safer (think mercury and opium).

We’ll visit them next week.

Until then, please consider heading over to Regina Jeffer’s delightful home on the internet and reading her exhaustive Herbal Medicine Used in Regency Period. There was no need for me to re-hash what had already been done thoroughly and well (Bonus: she shows how she incorporated her research into a novel!). Pin it, bookmark it, and put a shortcut to it on your desktop while you’re there.

 

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WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Clerked

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Clerked

This week’s word brought to you by the wonderfully expressive Mr. Knightley.

Clerked

Soothed, funned, imposed on. “The cull will not be clerked;” i.e. the fellow will not be imposed on by fair words.

“Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.”
Volume II, Chapter 8, Emma

“Not your vain spirit, but your serious spirit. –If one leads you wrong, I am sure the other tells you of it.”
Volume III, Chapter 2, Emma

“There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chuses, and that is, his duty; not by manoeuvring and finessing, but by vigour and resolution. It is Frank Churchill’s duty to pay this attention to his father. He knows it to be so, by his promises and messages; but if he wished to do it, it might be done.”
Volume II, Chapter 18, Emma

“Upon my word, Emma, to hear you abusing the reason you have, is almost enough to make me think so too. Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do.”
Volume I, Chapter 8, Emma

“Emma, I must once more speak to you as I have been used to do: a privilege rather endured than allowed, perhaps, but I must still use it. I cannot see you acting wrong, without a remonstrance. How could you be so unfeeling to Miss Bates? How could you be so insolent in your wit to a woman of her character, age, and situation?—Emma, I had not thought it possible.”
Volume III, Chapter 7, Emma

“Men of sense, whatever you may chuse to say, do not want silly wives.”
Volume I, Chapter 8, Emma

“Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.”
Volume I, Chapter 8, Emma

Mr. Knightley – Can I get a witness, please?!

 

  • Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
  • The above quotes are from the Jane Austen novel Emma, but are not matched to the gif scenes from the BBC/PBS miniseries Emma starring Jonny Lee Miller and Romola Garai from 2010. I just liked the quotes and JLM’s expressions. Apologies if this sets off anyone’s need for matchiness.
WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Valentine

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Valentine

Guess what happens this week!

If you guessed Valentine’s Day, you’re only partially correct. I was shooting for the day after Valentine’s Day, when candy goes on sale for half-price or more. Now that’s something to celebrate, amiright?!

Anyway. On to the Word of the Week.

The observation of St. Valentine’s Day has its origins in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival. That celebration involved lots of naked men running around the city spanking women’s bottoms, which was thought to increase their fertility. Ahem.

And like all good pagan rites of yore, Christians swooped in and usurped the pagan’s place in the festivities; after the death of Christ, February 14th became a date associated with the martyring of three different saints, all coincidentally named Valentine (or Valentinus, in the Latin of the day).

Now, the first documented association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love came with the publication of Parlement of Foules by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1382:

Ye knowe wel how, Seynt Valentynes day,
By my statut and through my governaunce,
Ye come for to chese — and flee your way —
Your makes, as I prik yow with plesaunce.

History also reveals a Frenchman (but, of course!) holds the honor as first to send a Valentine, although under tragic circumstances. After his capture following the Battle of Agincourt, the duc D’Orléans wrote a missive to his wife from his cell in the Tower of London. He addressed her as “my sweet Valentine.”

Poem from Charles, duc D’Orléans, to his wife in 1415. Photo courtesy BBC; original document at the British Museum.

Shakespeare brought the concept of Valentines and Valentine’s Day to the masses when  he penned Ophelia’s mournful song for Hamlet (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5).

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donned his clothes,
And dupped the chamber door.
Let in the maid that out a maid
Never departed more.

The idea of sending notes specifically on Valentine’s Day took off in England, so much so that a how-to book was published in 1797, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer. The rampant popularity naturally meant the term would be adopted into the vernacular.

Hence this week’s timely slang term.

Valentine (noun)

The first woman seen by a man, or man seen by a woman, on St. Valentine’s day, the 14th of February, when it is said every bird chuses his mate for the ensuing year.

Early Valentines were personal and hand-made, specific to the tastes and feelings of the sender and recipient. Witness this lovely Puzzle Purse Valentine from 1816. The squares are numbered so that the message can be read in order as each section is opened. The final message or illustration takes the center spot. Who wouldn’t love to receive one of these?

Valentine Puzzle Purse, 14 February 1816. Image courtesy Nancy Rosin.

 

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Nug

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Nug

It’s February.

It may still be cold and wintry, but love is in the air, so things are heating up, of a fashion.

February hosts the most loved and despised of holidays – Valentine’s Day. Every year, more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are sold across the United States. Heck, even 9 million people buy something for their pets. But take a stroll through social media anywhere near February 14th to find out what your single friends think of the so-called “love month.”

They just need to find themselves a Word of the Week.

Nug

An endearing word: as, My dear nug; my dear love.

Oh! Listen to the Voice of Love, James Gillray, 1799, National Portrait Gallery.

And here’s one’s dearest nug…at least prior to marriage.

Harmony Before Matrimony, James Gillray, 1805, British Museum.

 

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Galligaskins

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Galligaskins

Slang term + video of period clothing illustrating term = terrific Word of the Week!

Galligaskins

Breeches.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, galligaskins were leggings or loose-fitting breeches worn by sailors. Think puffy, knee-britches. But by the late 18th century, and certainly the Regency era, as tight-fitting breeches had replaced the loose ones, the term galligaskin had come to be derogatory slang for just how tight those new breeches were, and poked delicious fun at how little they left to the imagination.

Mr. Timothy Long is now the Director and Senior Specialist of Couture at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago, Illinois. Formerly, he was the Curator of Fashion and Decorative Arts at the Museum of London, and he posted some fabulous short videos of collection discoveries with typed-up captions explaining the more fascinating aspects of the pieces he profiled. The videos are buried in his twitter feed, and are everything that is lovely and wonderful. Of course I found one of impeccable galligaskins, circa 1810. Make sure to click the link, because my screen shots don’t do the trousers justice.

1810 Galligaskins

 

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Clan

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Clan

Short and sweet again this week. I’m on the road to recovery, but the four-seasons-in-one-week-weather of Texas is not exactly helping to speed along my progress. Thanks for your patience in indulging my whimsical posts.

Clan

A family’s tribe or brotherhood.

I found a pretty funny – and pretty accurate – video on YouTube explaining the Georgian era. And since this week’s word is clan, and the vid is about the Georgians, the family must be those wild and crazy Hanovers. Of course we Regency nerds are most familiar with George III. Who said it was Byron, and not His Majesty, that was mad, bad, and dangerous to know?

The host’s demeanor when naming said clan gave me flashbacks to Pip Torrens introducing the Bennet ladies at Netherfield when they came to collect Jane in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation. Again, it may be the Elderberry syrup that heightens my entertainment capabilities.

Please enjoy It’s All a Bit Silly — Georgian Era, this week. (Fair warning: the language is occasionally not completely safe for work, so ear buds in public)

 

Slang word taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Humbug

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Humbug

It’s finally the Christmas season, and I’m finally getting into the Christmas spirit. I’m not one who subscribes to Happy HallowThanksMas, and can’t abide the appearance of Santa next to jack-o-lanterns and horns of plenty. I’m perfectly fine with those who decorate their homes early; I’d just prefer not to be assaulted by skeletons and candy canes on the same end caps at grocery stores in September each year.

It’s also that time of year when I discover words that do not mean exactly what I think they mean. Bah, humbug!

Humbug

To deceive, or impose on one by some story or device. A jocular imposition, or deception. To hum and haw; to hesitate in speech, also to delay, or be with difficulty brought to consent to any matter or business.

Humbugging, or Raising the Devil by Thomas Rowlandson, 12 March 1800, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

My association with the word humbug of course comes via Ebeneezer Scrooge of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), which has absolutely no relevance to the slang definition above. Mr. Scrooge’s exclamation ‘bah, humbug!’ is itself its own slang expression that conveys “curmudgeonly displeasure,” according to dictionary.com.

What I discovered, much to my surprise, is that humbug also refers to a confection. Wikipedia dates the first record of a hard boiled sweet available in the United Kingdom in the 1820s. And as any historian will tell you, by the time something shows up in the printed record, it has likely been in existence for many years; that means many of our Regency friends likely enjoyed a humbug or two.

The sweets are striped in two different colors, and were traditionally flavored with peppermint, although many varieties are available today. They can be shaped as cylinders with rounded ends, or tetrahedrons with rounded ends (rounded ends seem to be the common denominator here). The candy made its way into pop culture, having been featured in the televised version of The Adventure of the Six Napoleons by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When Dr. Watson offers Inspector Lestrade some of the sweets in the midst of an investigation, Holmes scolds, “Watson, this is no time for humbugs!”

That one time arsenic got into the humbugs

In studying 18th and 19th century England, one finds that arsenic gets into the darnedest things: clothing, beer, and now candy. In 1858, the Bradford Sweets Poisoning involved the accidental poisoning of over 200 people – and death of twenty – when sweets were accidentally made with arsenic. It sounds suspicious, until one realizes that the high price of sugar often lead distributors to cut the amount of sugar in half or thirds, and mix in cheaper substances to sell the product to the working classes. These cheaper substances, such as limestone and plaster of Paris, were known as ‘daft’ and, while not palatable, were perfectly safe for consumption.

An operator of a sweet stall in Bradford, known to locals as “Humbug Billy,” purchased his daft from a local druggist. Due to a mistake in labeling, and the fact that the powdered daft and arsenic powder resembled each, Humbug Billy left his supplier with 12 pounds of arsenic trioxide. Even though the finished confection did look different from the usual product, the mistake still wasn’t caught during manufacturing. Forty pounds of peppermint humbugs were produced; each humbug contained enough arsenic to kill two people.

Humbug Billy began selling his sweets that night. Within a few days, the mistake was known and deaths and illnesses were rampant. All involved in the Bradford poisoning were charged with manslaughter but none were convicted; it truly was an accident in every sense of the word. The Bradford poisoning scandal did lead to new legislation to prevent future tragedies. The 1860 Adulteration of Food and Drink Bill changed the way ingredients could be used, mixed, and combined. The UK Pharmacy Act of 1868 tightened regulations on the handling and selling of poisons and medicines by druggists and pharmacists.

 

 

  • Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
  • Need some humbugs? There are no doubt sweet shops on this side of the pond that make humbugs, but here are two I can personally vouch for across the pond: Jenny’s Homemade Sweets from Scotland (also try Edinburgh Rock and Puff Candy!) and Mrs. Beightons Sweetshop in Haworth, West Yorkshire (also try their yummy Lemon Bon Bons!).
  • Read all about Dying for a Humbug, the Bradford Sweets Poisoning 1858 at Historic UK.
  • If you’re a tweeter, be watching for the date of our #livetweet of A Christmas Carol at the end of this month. @JaneAustenDance and I live tweet various Jane Austen movies throughout the year, but thought Christmas called for this beloved classic. We simply cue up the movie, pop some popcorn, and all watch and tweet our observations together. It’s great fun!