November 23, 2011

And God Bless Us, Every Word

Another Wondrous Words Wednesday is upon us--which in this case means that another Thursday is almost here, and this particular Thursday will be Thanksgiving!  I usually try to hold off on all references to Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving, but with a SuperToddler in the house who is super-psyched for Christmas, aided and abetted by her grandmother, I have given up all pretense, and we are happily watching Christmas movies on DVD.  A LOT.  Besides, with the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge in full swing, I'm neck deep into Dickens' Christmas books and loving every minute of it.

I'm also getting a profound verbal education from my first re-reading of A Christmas Carol in many years.  When I was younger, I just skipped over words I didn't know; looking back, I wonder now how I got any sense of a story from this book, since so many of the terms--though not new--have changed meaning so drastically that I'm looking them up as if it's the first time I ever encountered them.  I think you'll see what I mean as you read your way down the list.

1.  rime--a thin sheet of ice or hoarfrost over something, especially when the freezing occurred very rapidly.  This, of course, was a reference to Scrooge's "cold, cold heart," as it were.

2.  Union workhouse--Apparently, charitable provision for the poor in Dickensian England was regulated by what was called the New Poor Law, and that law created Poor Law Unions in parishes, under whose auspices workhouses were created to give shelter, food and jobs.  The workhouse got its awful reputation because they weren't exactly encouraging people to want to stay there if they were fit enough to do any other job on Earth.

3.  treadmill--Did YOU know that there were once mills powered by humans walking on, well, giant hamster wheels?  Because I did not know that, nor that such mills were the origin of our term for the modern piece of exercise equipment.

4.  link--See what I mean?  Of course, I know what a link is; in fact, I have a couple of meanings for it that would have been utter nonsense in Dickens' time.  However, to him, it was a torch.  How the English language does change!

5.  genius--Here we go again.  Before this was a mental wunderkind, it was a guardian spirit.

These last two I had encountered many times in my life, but had never actually looked them up to discover the precise meaning.  I just assumed a rough guess would suffice.  Both my guesses were wrong.

6.  misanthrope--I cannot BELIEVE that I never worked this one out based on simple etymology.  It means someone who hates human beings.  An apt description for pre-ghoul Scrooge if I ever heard one.

7.  fain--This actually means to enjoy or be pleased by.  I had a vague idea that it meant to be willing to do something, or to take an action out of simple necessity.  Nope.  Much more positive than that.

So there you have it, a feast of words from dear old Mr. Dickens.  I wish you and all yours a happy Thanksgiving.


  1. This is a word banquet, nothing less :-) I found treadmill to be particularly interesting. I had always wondered at the word, actually, but the idea of human hamsters wheels actually spooks me off :-(

  2. I read A Christmas Carol for the first time last year and thorougly loved it. It was so rewarding. I knew about the treadmills- we visited the beautiful Mont St Michel in France in 98, and they had a big hamster wheel used to haul the massive stones up to construct the cathedral. All rather astonishing. Ingenious in a way of course, but also unpleasant.

  3. BTW I do love your post titles- very clever

  4. I love your words! and how you explaned them to us. I bet those human walkers at the mills were very skinny! I will look at our 'treadmill' quite differently from now on!

  5. I love that you put a Muppets picture, very appropriate considering their new movie! It's so interesting to see how the meanings of words have changed over time. Thanks for sharing. If you get a chance, my words are here.

  6. Enjoyed the words, thanks for sharing them.

  7. new meanings for known words (or rather their old meanings!) - fascinating! thanks for sharing.. my list is up too..

  8. What great words! The only one I knew the correct meaning of is rime. Just thinking about those human treadmills makes me cringe. Happy Thanksgiving!

  9. Interesting post thanks :D
    thought you might like my machinima version of A Christmas Carol


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