Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I Hope This Post Doesn't End Up Being Half-Assed

When the first Europeans began to move into the North American wilderness in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, they had to construct houses in which to live. That was easy enough for me to say, but as the old saying goes: "It's easier said than done."

The fact of the matter was that it took quite some time and energy to cut down the number of trees needed to build even a modest-sized structure. If the immigrant family was from Western or Southern Europe (which included Britain, Spain, France and the Netherlands), they probably intended to build a wood-frame structure. If the immigrant family came from Northern Europe, they would no doubt have intended to build a log cabin structure. Either method of building would take a little time to accomplish, especially if it was to be performed by the family's father and maybe a son or two.

So what was a family to do in the meantime for shelter? The most common solution to this dilemma was a structure known as a half-faced camp. The half-faced camp consisted of three walls and a roof made of light saplings spaced somewhat close together and interwoven with brush and smaller twigs. The fourth, open, side of the structure was higher than the rear so that the roof sloped from front to back and directed any rainwater away from, rather than into, the interior space. Outside of the structure, but close to that open side, would be kindled the fire for cooking and heating. The half-faced camp would be used as the family's home while the house was being built. The illustration above is of a form of half-faced camp published in 1859 in The Prairie Traveler, by Randolph B. Marcy. Instead of saplings, brush and twigs, the structure consists of a piece of fabric stretched to the ground from supporting branches.

In the North American Colonies, especially in the ones settled by English colonists, the English language bulged with words and phrases that developed and grew from the environment. Such words and phrases have become known as homespun words and phrases. The temporary structure that the immigrants constructed, the half-faced camp, gave birth to one of those homespun phrases (or rather, hyphenated words): half-assed.

Dictionaries give the meaning of the hyphenated word half-assed as something that is done only partly, or done without much effort, resulting in a product that is deficient in some way.

I'm sure that nine out of ten people that use this word to describe something in their life that is rough, or otherwise misses the mark in terms of preferred quality, do not have any idea that the word they have used was derived from a shelter against the weather.

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