Saturday, January 2, 2016

EU Required Notice Explained

I just want to note, to my readers outside of the U.S.A. ~ The banner regarding cookies that appears at the top of the page (and which can be hidden by simply clicking on "Got It") was placed there by Google. The banner stating: "This site uses cookies from Google to deliver its services, to personalize ads and to analyze traffic. Information about your use of this site is shared with Google. By using this site, you agree to its use of cookies." was required by laws issued by the European Union requiring websites to identify any cookies used by a website. My blog does not use any cookies of any kind in and of itself. ~ Larry D. Smith

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Subject Of This Post Is The

No honestly! It's the subject of this post ~ the, that is.

It really isn't my intention to offend all of those quaint little Ye Olde Shoppes that dot the land, but you talk kinda funny. In case you don't know it, your name is telling me: You Olde Shoppe as if it is calling me, the customer, an old shop. Perhaps it should be retitled as 'Me Olde Shoppe' if it is intended for the shop to be the olde one.

The point of this post is to note the ancestry of the letter 'y' when used as a substitute for the Anglo-Saxon symbol called a thorn: Þ  The symbol started as a Norse rune, that corresponded with the English word: giant. In Old Norse, the symbol 'Þ' (lower case 'þ'), named þurs, was pronounced as we today, in English, would pronounce thurs. As the symbol and the 'th' pronunciation moved from the Old Norse to Old English, the name of the symbol changed to þorn, which in today's English, would be pronounced as 'thorn'. Between the 8th and 15th Centuries, the thorn became the symbol of choice to express the sound of 'th' throughout the Scandinavian and Northern Europe countries. By the mid-1400s when William Caxton created his English alphabet, most of the letters and symbols that he borrowed from the German and Italian alphabets translated directly into his English alphabet. That is, most but not all. The thorn was one that did not translate directly, and so Caxton, in his English alphabet, substituted the letter 'y' for the 'þ' symbol.

The use of the letter 'y' in place of the 'þ' symbol, coupled with the letter 'e', to write the word that we today would pronounce as the was used in printed as well as in handwritten documents into the 1700s. Likewise the word that was usually spelled 'yt'. The reader became used to seeing the 'y' used in place of the 'th' combination, and so could read through a document without problem.

The spelling of the word 'you' as 'ye', such as in the phrase: Hear ye, hear ye!, became popular as a result of its usage in the Bibles printed through the 17th and 18th Centuries. Contemporary readers knew, as they read a document, the difference between ye/you and ye/the by understanding the context of what they were reading. And so, modern readers should know the difference in regard to the context; a store with the name 'Ye Olde Shoppe' would not make sense to be pronounced as You Olde Shoppe, so it could only be pronounced as The Olde Shoppe.

Now, the only thing to figure out is why the shop-owner thinks there needs to an 'e' at the end of the words 'Old' and 'Shop'. Apparently, the shop-owners want their customers to visit You Oldeeeey Shoppeeeey.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

It's Fashionable To Hate Fruitcake; So I Guess I'm Not Fashionable

During the Medieval Age, a soup was created using mutton stock as the base, to which various types of chopped up fruits were added. Plums, in the dried version of prunes, became the favored ingredient of this soup because of the flavor they imparted to the mix. Eventually the dish became known as Plum Soup. By the 16th century, the soup evolved into a pie with the addition of meat and suet, and baked within a pastry shell.

According to the Mother Goose's nursery rhyme: "Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, Eating his Christmas pie. He put in his thumb, and pull'd out a plum, And said 'What a good boy am I!'." It was the Plum Pie, descended from Plum Soup, that became the Christmas pie eaten by Little Jack Horner. Tradition claims that Plum Pie became associated with Christmas by being formed into a rectangular, rather than a round, shape to represent the manger-bed prepared for the Christ Child.

During the English Interregnum, while Oliver Cromwell was in power as Lord Protector, the Puritans frowned on any sort of extravagance. Unfortunately for Plum Pie, it was identified as one of those extravagances, and was outlawed throughout the British Isles and the British colonies in North America. In order to avoid trouble, but to still enjoy the dish, the people of England disguised it by forming it into a round ball and calling it minc'd pie. To 'mince' something means to crush or shred something. Beef suet was minced before adding it to this pie, and so the name would have been appropriate. Plums continued to provide the pie its distinctive flavor.

By the 1800s the name of the dish had been changed to Plum Pudding, being baked without the pastry shell. The dish has remained in that form to the present-day, and is uniquely associated with Christmas. To many people, myself included, plum pudding is the quintessential Christmas treat. I've never tried it, but I am sure that plum pudding made on July 4th would probably be bitter.
Now, most people today have no idea what is meant by the name 'beef suet' or why it was added to plum pudding. The suet is a fatty substance that surrounds a cow's kidneys. When the cow is butchered and cut up into pieces for human consumption, the fat surrounding the kidneys is sold as 'beef suet.' When steaming a pudding, the cook crumbles (crushes or shreds) the suet into tiny pieces to be mixed throughout the pudding batter. The purpose of using suet in the pudding is to create hundreds or even thousands of tiny air spaces throughout the dish. The suet melts late in the cooking process, after the starchy batter has begun to set, and therefore tiny spaces are left where the suet particles had been.

In order to make a proper plum pudding, actual beef suet is used, and the pudding must be steamed in boiling water for about four hours. Water must be continually added as it boils away, and therefore making a plum pudding using suet is not undertaken by most cooks.  In recent years, a type of jelly or sauce, composed of diced apples mixed with various spices and marketed as 'mincemeat', has been substituted for the actual minced suet/meat. Although it reduces the baking time to about forty-five minutes, the product has a heavier texture.

Recipes for plum pudding varying from cook to cook. Some recipes call for every type of fruit available along with a couple spices, while others limit the variety of fruit to two or three mixed with seven or eight spices. Some recipes insist that only fresh fruit be used, while others call for glace fruit (which is candied fruit: diced and covered in concentrated sugar syrup). Regardless of the particular ingredients, most plum puddings contain diced nuts, especially almonds or walnuts, in addition to the fruit: hence the alternative name, fruit and nut cake.

Plum pudding, or Christmas pudding, contains a certain amount of alcohol, imparted by the ingredient of plum brandy. Any brandy will do, but plum brandy is the only one that would, of course, contribute to the 'plum' flavor of the dish. I guess you could leave the plums out, and add peach brandy to the mixture, but then the dish should bear the name: peach pudding, and it certainly would not be very 'traditional'. It should be noted also, that just prior to serving the dish, additional brandy should be spooned over the outside surface, which is then set afire so that a beautiful bluish haze envelopes the pudding.

While the traditional plum pudding, from the 17th Century onwards, was baked in a round bowl, giving the product a domed shape; the dish can be baked, like I do, in a bundt pan (sometimes referred to as an 'angel-food cake pan') or in any other baking dish.
And so now we come to the 10,000 pound elephant in the room. It has become very fashionable to dis (i.e. disparage) plum pudding, (or rather 'fruit cake' or 'fruit and nut cake') these days. Television personalities will not be caught dead claiming that they like the dish. And events are publicized in which 'fruit cakes' are loaded into catapults and trebuchets and launched hundreds of feet into fields by fanatics declaring that that is the only thing that can be done with them. Granted, the 'fruit and nut cakes' produced by commercial bakeries tend to be poor imitations of the original plum pudding; they sometimes are so dry and tasteless that they deserve to be destroyed.

Whether those fashionable people who zealously gloat about hating 'fruit cakes' have ever eaten real, homemade plum pudding is not known. I bet they, like myself, would come to love the dish. The surprise of biting into a fragment of walnut, followed by the sweet juiciness of biting into a piece of candied cherry, is something that makes Christmas: 'Christmas.'

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

With A Flick Of The Wrist

In 1827, at the age of twenty-five, Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy established a business at #15 on the Rue de la Paix in Paris, France to produce hand fans. Although the company changed hands (no pun intended) over the years, and although the demand for hand fans dropped drastically when electric operated fans came into vogue, the Duvelleroy company is currently still operating. Hand held fans were very fashionable in France and elsewhere, including the United States.

The object of this post is a hand fan that I purchased for a few dollars at a local flea market a couple years ago. As with any item that comes into my possession, I inspected it carefully to discover more information about it. The inspection of this item revealed that it was constructed of two layers of paper pasted together with fourteen blades between them that appear, at first glance, to be ivory, but upon closer inspection seem to be bakelite. Bakelite, invented in 1907, was an early precursor of plastic. The blades have swirling line designs etched into their surfaces, part of which are then painted with a gold colored paint. The two ends are given sturdiness by the attachment of bakelite 'guards' which also have swirling line etched designs on their surfaces.

The paper mounts, or solid paper surfaces, of the fan have what appears to be a lithographed scene on one side and an engraved design on the other. The 'front' mount bears a colored scene of seven ladies in a garden. At first I thought that the scene depicted the Seven Muses ~ but then I remembered that there were nine, not just seven, muses: Calliope (the Muse of Poetry), Clio (the Muse of History), Euterpe (the Muse of Song), Erato (the Muse of Lyric Poetry), Melpomene (the Muse of Tragedy), Polyhymnia (the Muse if Hymns), Terpsichore (the Muse of Dance), Thalia (the Muse of Comedy) and Urania (the Muse of Astronomy). I then thought that maybe the scene depicted the Seven Graces ~ but then I remembered that there were only Three Graces: Aglaia (the Grace of beauty), Euphrosyne (the Grace of Mirth) and Thalia (the Grace of Charity). Although I can't identify them, the seven ladies are dressed in beautiful, flowing gowns, and the garden in which they meet is dense with vegitation with an ancient stone temple in the background. The back mount of the fan is plain with an engraved border of musical instruments positioned amid gracefully arching flourishes in imitation of acanthus leaves. On the back is attached a small rectangular piece of the same color paper as the fan mount and printed with the wording: With Best Wishes from Penn Alto Hotel George D. Worthington. It would appear, from the similarity of the paper and ink color of the attached rectangle to the fan mount, that the attached piece was not added as an afterthought, but attached at the time that the fan was produced.

And finally, on the back mount, in very small print at the base of the mount, is the wording: Maquet Grav  10 Rue de la Paix, Paris (meaning that it was 'engraved' at that address).
As noted above, the Duvelleroy hand fan company was established at 15 Rue de la Paix. Whether a portion of that business was also located at 10 Rue de la Paix has not been determined. What is known is that the address had a long history of culture. In the late-1800s Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) maintained a business titled: Frederic's at 10 Rue de la Paix. Mr. Worth is credited with having created the so-called "fashion industry" and "haute couture". Then, in 1903, the perfume company, Caron, established by the brothers Ernest and Raoul Daltroff, moved from Rue Rossini to 10 Rue de la Paix. Perhaps the Duvelleroy company produced fans for Caron, who might have marketed them along with their fragrances.

What I later discovered was that George D. Worthington managed the Penn Alto Hotel circa 1923-25. He might have had the fans produced and stamped with the message: "With Best Wishes From Penn Alto Hotel George D. Worthington" to celebrate his taking over the management of the hotel. The fan would have been a very fashionable accessory for the lady who stayed at the most fashionable hotel in the city of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

The hand fan was ostensibly used to generate a breeze of air, but it also provided the lady who wielded it with a 'language'. This language was invented as part of its advertising by Jules Duvelleroy, a son of Jean-Pierre who managed the company's London House.
A fan extended all the way open, and held in front of the face just below the eyes said "Follow me". But if the lady opened her fan all the way and covered her left eye with it, she was saying "I am engaged". A fan only partially opened and held below both eyes said "I love you", and if the lady then closed the fan as she dropped her hand forward, she was asking: "Do you love me?" So, with a flick of the wrist, the lady would let her feelings be known.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

That Polecat Stinks To High Heaven

My home is located in the valley formed by the South Dry Run creek (pronounced crick, rhyming with 'pick'). Our three to four mile long valley, originating with a number of springs in the vicinity of Smith Corner, and culminating where it empties into the valley cut by the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River, is one of the many hollows that cut into the Appalachian mountain range in this south-central part of Pennsylvania. On the other side of the hill that forms the south wall of my hollow lies Singer Hollow, and on the other side of the hill that forms the south wall of Singer Hollow lies PawPaw Hollow. Benton Hollow and an unnamed hollow lie farther to the south. And then, about three miles south of my home, "as the crow flies," stretches the Polecat Hollow.

And, in case you haven't guessed it yet, the polecat is the subject of this blog post. Many people, even many of those who have lived in this corner of the world all their lives, believe they know what a polecat is. Polecats, they believe, are those stinking varmints covered in black fur with blotches of white on their heads and stripes of white down their backs or sides and sometimes on the tips of their tails. What most of those people, who believe they know what a polecat is, don't know, is that those black and white animals are skunks; they're not now, nor ever were polecats.

The polecat ferret, or rather Mustela putorius, a member of the Mustelidae family (which includes otters, badgers and weasels), was common in Europe. Skunks, which were somewhat unique in the animal world for their jet black and pristine white fur, were native to North America. The skunk was originally believed to belong to the Mustelidae family, but more recently was moved to the Mephitidae family (which consists of mammals having a stench). Although the polecat ferret was similar to the skunk in many ways, it differed in that it bore cocoa brown fur over its back and lighter colored fur on its belly. The polecat ferret, having a strong musk odor, could easily be mistaken for a skunk at first smell.

When our ancestors came from the Old World, they found the black and white animals that sprayed an horrendous smell when startled, but they also found similar stink-spraying animals covered in fur that was a dark cocoa brown color with tan stripes or spots. They apparently weren't true skunks but they smelled alot like skunks. The immigrants from the European regions of Germany and Switzerland remembered the 'polecat ferret' of their homeland. When those immigrants encountered the foul-smelling brown and tan varmints, they associated them with the polecat ferret they knew back home. They probably assumed that the two animals, black/white and brown/tan were two different things, and so they called the black/white ones 'skunks' and they called the brown/tan ones 'polecats.' What the early European settlers in North America did not know was that the skunk did not necessarily have to be covered in black and white fur: the animal can bear cocoa brown and tan fur, just like the European polecat ferret. And so, the names of skunk and polecat became intermixed here in the wilderness of America. Eventually, as such things sometimes go, the names got so intermixed that the Euro-American settlers tended to call them all 'polecats'. It has come around to the point that today a large percentage of Americans call the black and white animal: polecats, and don't even know that a brown and tan variety exists (unless they encounter one in the forest).

The name polecat is believed to have been derived from a combination of the French word poule, meaning 'chicken' and puant, meaning 'stinking'. On the other hand, the name skunk is believed to have been derived from an Amerindian word seka-kwa, meaning 'urinating fox.' An English translation of that word, squunck is claimed to have been used as early as the 1630s in New England. 

Polecats (or rather, skunks) are generally avoided if at all possible. The threat of startling one, and being sprayed as a result, contributes to their being avoided by human beings. But in the past not all of them were avoided; sometimes baby ones would be treated as pets. In more recent years, laws have been enacted protecting these mammals, but in the past the scent glands would be removed from baby polecats. The animal, without its noxious odor, acted like an affectionate cat (that is if such a thing could actually exist ~ please don't hate me, cat-lovers). My mother told me stories about how her brothers would 'unscent' a baby skunk and it would become a very playful and fun pet. The current laws prohibit removal of the scent glands, and so you can't legally own polecats as pets. Unfortunately for them, polecats / skunks have very poor eyesight. They can only see about ten feet away, and that is a contributing factor in why most people only see one when it is lying dead on a road (having been hit by the car it couldn't see and from which it could not get away). The title expresses the concept that the polecat's odor was very strong ~ strong enough to reach as high as Heaven ~ which is indeed a very long distance away.

Monday, July 7, 2014

If You're Going To The Store, Get Me A Poke A Cherries

In 1978 Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes and Bruce Woolley wrote a song that was first recorded by The Camera Club, and later by the Buggles. That song took its title from its opening line: Video Killed The Radio Star. The song bewailed the end of the popularity of radio occasioned by the rising popularity of video. My lament is that 'television killed regional dialects'.

In the United States, where the primary, though not official, language is English, there are a number of regional dialects and accents. An accent is a variation in the way certain words are pronounced, whereas a dialect is a distinct variation within a language that encompasses more than just pronunciation. Pennsylvania Dutch is a well-known dialect within the English language. I'm sure that most people reading this post already know what is meant by 'Pennsylvania Dutch', but for those who do not, I'll provide a brief explanation. The word 'Dutch' in the name Pennsylvania Dutch is commonly believed to have been derived from the German word Deutsch, meaning German, or the German people. Although that sounds good in a folklore sort of way, in actuality the word Dutch had been in use for centuries (by the English, that is) as a name for the people who settled all along the Rhine River, which flows from the Swiss Alps in Canton Graubunden, Switzerland to the Netherlands, where it empties into the North Sea: the Low Dutch for those residing in Liechtenstein and Netherlands and High Dutch for those residing in Germany and Switzerland. Most of the Mennonite immigrants to the New World came from Switzerland and the German principalities of Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wurttemberg and Hesse (i.e. High Dutch), and they settled primarily in Pennsylvania. Those emigrants retained their appellation of "Dutch" even after they established their new homes in Pennsylvania: hence they became known as Pennsylvania Dutch. As noted, Pennsylvania Dutch is a dialect of the English language, and therefore employs English words, albeit in variations of grammar and syntax. There are even dialectical variations of the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect ~ the Bedford sub-dialect, variously called the Central Pennsylvania dialect, being one of them. This region was settled by many Ulster-Scot, Irish and Scottish families in addition to German and Swiss ones who migrated westward from the Pennsylvania Dutch region of eastern Pennsylvania. It was inevitable that they should intermarry. And when they intermarried, their speech became curiously intermingled.

There are numerous websites on the internet and many books in libraries which provide examples of the idiosyncrasies of Pennsylvania Dutch, so I won't list them all here. The point I want to make here is that for many years my ancestors and I got to enjoy the uniqueness of our language. The way my parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents spoke was familiar and comfortable to me. And then television came into our lives. Suddenly everyone was speaking an homogenized form of English. Regional dialects and accents were reserved for the hillbillies and hicks of the movies. Suddenly, Pennsylvania Dutch, and its sub-dialects, had become a joke. And that was definitely something to lament.

So last night ~ on the TV ~ on a show titled Our Secret Slang, devoted to telling about the origins of words we use every day, they talked about the word 'poke'. Many of the people they interviewed thought that the word referred to the verb meaning to prod, as with a finger, but I instantly knew they were talking about a small container. I remembered the many times that we went to a grocery for a poke of black licorice candy or to a hardware store for a poke of nails. Of course now, as I compose this post on my computer, I prefer to spell words as they should be spelled. Therefore, I choose to spell out 'poke of nails', denying my Pennsylvania accent to be revealed; but when I was younger I would have pronounced it 'poke a nails'.

The word poke comes from the 12th Century Old French poche, which meant 'purse', from which was also derived the Old North French word poque. The French comes possibly from the Germanic word puk, which was derived from the Proto-Indo-European root beu- meaning 'to swell'.
When I was a child, and pokes were in common use in south central Pennsylvania, they tended to take the form of small brown paper bags that measured roughly four inches by two inches by eight inches high, when fully opened. One of those pokes could hold ten or twelve pieces of delicious black licorice candy or 15 six-inch-long 20-penny nails. If you needed to buy a gallon of milk, three cans of peas and a loaf of bread, there was no way that you could expect to carry it all home in a poke; you needed a bag. And that is where the phrase a pig in a poke comes from: it would be quite an impossibility to fit a pig ~ any size pig ~ into a small bag. And so 'a pig in a poke' was used to describe some impossibly incredible claim.

Now the thing about a dialect, as compared to an accent, using the word poke as an example, is that it was used for many years in the region of south central Pennsylvania where I grew up. And it was certainly not an example of an accent. It wasn't a matter of us pronouncing the word slightly differently from the way the people down in Alabama did; it was more of a matter of us using the word while those Alabamans didn't. Those of us and our ancestors who lived in this portion of Appalachia that cut through the center of Pennsylvania used a number of words that most people elsewheres did not ~ or at least in ways most did not. For example, some of them pertained to food. Most people used the two words of 'buttered' and 'bread' to express what we knew as a single word: butterbread. When we covered the butter on our piece of butterbread with about a quarter inch layer of sugar (enough to track a rabbit according to my grandfather, Eldon Smith) it became sugarbread. It is possible that our word butterbread was simply derived from the German word butterbrot and that our word sugarbread likewise came from a German word: suikerbrood, but who knows for sure? And our sense of the time-space continuum sometimes got skewed because we would think nothing of saying "I'll meet you somewhere around eight o'clock tomorrow at the church." The word somewhere referred to the time, not the place. The little nuances of our dialect hinted towards its relationship to Pennsylvania Dutch, but it wasn't as heavy on the 'Dutch' part as you might hear down east (such as the way we would add an 's' to the ends of words like 'toward' and 'end' that functioned just fine without). While we were comfortable when we spoke all of the usual, peculiar Pennsylvania Dutch words and phrases, such as 'redding up the room' when we knew that guests were coming, or that we planned to 'put up' (i.e. can) twenty jars of applebutter. But where Pennsylvania Dutch was practically one hundred percent German in origin, the dialect that thrived in our neck of the woods was German mixed with Irish and Scottish words. We thought that gas prices were 'gettin awful dear' each time they rose and we didn't like anyone 'messing around' when we wanted to be serious, so we'd tell them to 'scram'. Those words and phrases came from our ancestors that could trace their lineage back to the British Isles. So when mother ordered us to stop messing around because she needed to get the room all redd up, she was not strictly speaking Pennsylvania German.

You probably noticed that I used the past-tense of the verb 'to go' above when I remembered getting pokes of stuff. That's because we very seldom get pokes of anything anymore ~ they've become a thing of the past. It's partly because all of the stores you go to use the same size (different color) large plastic bags. Even if you all want is a pack of chewing gum or one birthday card, the clerk puts it in one of those same size (different color) large plastic bags. But it's also partly because of the fact that you never hear the word poke, in regard to a small bag, spoken on television anymore. The homogenized English spoken on television killed the regional dialects. Oh, and the photo at the top of this post is of a poke a cherries.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

There's Not Enough Room For A Bed In There

The invalid room was one of a number of rooms that once occupied homes, but which have almost completely disappeared from the modern contractor's lexicon. The word invalid was derived from the negated form of the Latin word validus. Validus meant strong, and the negated form was created by adding to it the prefix in: producing in-validus, meaning un-strong, or infirmed. Although seldom used today in our super-pc (i.e. politically correct) society, a member of the family, often elderly and terminally ill, was referred to as an invalid. The invalid room was the bedroom in which the family cared for their invalid member.

It's hard to believe, but at one time we residents of the United States of America, like residents of many other countries, cared for our loved ones, when they became elderly and/or terminally ill, in our own homes. The elderly family members were not exiled to 'nursing homes' as soon as they started to cough. They were provided with a bed in a room on the ground floor of the house, often close to or beside the kitchen. In some cases, a side room would be converted into an invalid room simply by the addition of a bed, in others a room would be dedicated to the function. During the Nineteenth and early-Twentieth Centuries, houses were often constructed with an invalid room included in the original design. Until it needed to function as a bedroom for the infirmed member of the family, an invalid room might be employed as a 'den' or 'pantry' or a storage room. As noted, the invalid room was often close to the kitchen, making it convenient to provide for the needs of the infirmed person. Rather than having to carry trays of food or buckets of water to an upstairs bedroom, the family members simply needed to carry them from the kitchen into an adjoining room. 

Perhaps the reason that many modern day families do not even consider caring for their elderly and infirmed members in their own homes is because their houses are not equipped with a room that can even be converted into an invalid room. Accomodating their invalid loved ones needs may seem so overwhelming because of the lack of a space that can function as an invalid room. It's a shame that houses are no longer built with long-term care of our elderly family members in mind.

The diagram at the top of this post shows the plans for a house typical of the early 1900s. The room highlighted in red could be used for any purpose; it was perfectly suitable to be used as an invalid room.