Issue 207, page 4

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Sez You...

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From Jim:

Glad to see the new issue.

Your discussion of red-letter vs black-letter days reminded me of the term black-letter law, which is how legal types refer to elements of the law which are not in doubt or dispute ("settled" law).

From David:

[In last issue's Sez You...] I noticed a few mentions of quean, meaning "girl", with a slightly pejorative meaning.

You may be interested that this word is still in current use.  I have relatives from the North-East of Scotland and they use a word pronounced "kwine" to rhyme with "wine" as a non-pejorative word for "girl". The matching pair for this is loon for "boy", again non-pejorative, with no apparent connection to loony/lunatic or the Canadian bird of the same name.

Yes, the OED has an entry for the Scottish usage, spelled also queanLoon in your sense is also listed.  See our blog for further discussion of loon.

From Grayson:

[Re Laughing Stock, Issue 206] In the Country Sun catalog on-line, the next entry after "Hardy Dinner" is "Mackarel Dinner", followed shortly by "Simmered Seafare"... presumably referring to ocean-going food, not to the sautéed journeys of a sailor.

From Fred:

In Googling the redskins origin puzzle, "grasping for straws" came to mind. I wonder if the origins of the term may have more prosaic roots. Namely, the practice of Indian tribes, as recorded by early English settlers, to daub their bodies with red body paint. William Strachey, writing of the Virginia settlements in the early 1600s, noted how native men and women daubed their bodies with "red tempered oyntments of earth" and the juice of certain roots. They "besmeared" themselves with it for ornamental purposes as well as to protect their bodies from mosquitoes, flies and gnats. He added that as a protection against summer heat and winter cold they painted their heads and shoulders red with puccoon root crushed to a powder and mixed with walnut oil or bear grease." There are several other contemporary accounts of this practice.

I live in Virginia so am familiar with the very red Virginia clay - add a little water and it really sticks, and looks very red indeed. With all the flies and bugs that come with the Virginia summer the practice of finding something to protect the skin in those pre Rite-Aid days makes a lot of sense. I imagine the situation in Virginia was no different to what other tribes had to contend with along the Eastern Seaboard.

Lastly, my wife is one quarter Crow, and when we visit relatives near Billings, Montana, I also wonder how "red" became a handle to describe the native people, no more "red" than I am, 100% Yorkshire. We'll never know for sure, but I have a hunch that when early settlers ran into red-painted Indians, they began to associate them with some sort of "red" tag. Probably the Romans had a similar "blue" term for the woad-painted ancient Britons!

You're close, but not quite on the mark.  Some believe that the Beothuk of Newfoundland, who painted themselves with red ochre and revered the color red, and were called Red Indians by European settlers, are the source of the broader use of red Indian or red man as an epithet for all North American Indians.  However, it is difficult to discern as the use of red to describe North American Indians is ubiquitous in the written record.  Red man dates from 1744, redskin from 1699, red Indian from 1831, and Red Indian to specifically denote the Beothuk dates from 1955, while the Beothuk were probably first encountered in 1497 (notwithstanding the possibility that the Beothuk are the Skraelings of the Viking sagas).  In H. Horwood's Newfoundland (1969), the author states that the Beothuk were "the original Red Men, who, because of their attachment to red ochre, gave their nickname to all the other native tribes of North America."  See Google's search results for Beothuk.

The OED, however, maintains that the epithet arose because of the coppery color of the skin of North American Indians (and we, knowing some Lakota, Comanche and Cherokee, among others, can attest to this coloring, especially among those who are in the sun a great deal).

From Stuart:

Alright, Mel and Mike, I missed TOWFI so much during your hiatus that I am compelled to donate to the cause. After this note is sent I'm clicking on the PayPal link in hopes that my ten bucks will buy ten minutes for you to devote to a more regular publication of my absolute favorite web site. Love the blog as well.

Your donation did indeed help, as did those of a few others.  Thank you to all who have been generous in supporting us.  If you have not donated, but enjoy what you read here, please do take a moment to click the Paypal button

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From Bill:

I enjoyed the discussion of the pronunciation of pecan. It would be interesting to see who calls [a carbonated beverage] soda and who calls it pop. Here in Pennsylvania it appears the state is split right down the middle, with the eastern half calling it soda and the western half calling it pop. And the first person who says they call it Coke or Pepsi is outta here.

When Melanie was growing up in Texas, all sodas were referred to as cokes.  She remembers as a child frequently asking waiters, "What cokes do you have?"  Of course, nowadays that is a valid question, what with the numerous varieties of Coke available.

From David:

Because of the abusive changes in the English language coupled with the censorship of the US, the definition of f*ck was lost. I do know what it used to mean and the meaning was lost through censorship.

Prior to the widespread use of the word in its foul usage, the word use to mean to plow. As in "f*ck the field".  It was in the American English dictionary in the 60's. and if I'm not mistaken, was also included in the 50's and early 70's. It was a farm term in which a plow or hoe was used for preparing the soil for planting.  I am from a long line of farmers and know for a fact that that is what the word was used for.

Because of the similarity between the farming act and the sexual act the word was twisted into its obscene form causing it to be removed from the dictionary through earlier censorship and thus loosing its original meaning.

If you can find some old dictionaries, you man be able to confirm what I have indicated to you. If you do please include it in your search so that I may be able to prove this fact in my teachings.

We do have some old dictionaries and have not found that usage in them.  While this may have been an actual usage in your experience, it was certainly of jocular origin well after the word first arose with its more widely understood meaning.  There is simply no written evidence that the word was ever used in the sense you describe.  If you do find written evidence, please let us know. Also, see our discussion of this word.


Or read the last issue to see what all of these people are talking about!

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