Sunday, December 30, 2012



You might have thought this was just the last name of certain people, which it is, but it also used to have a meaning as a regular word.  Back a long time ago in England, barton meant the lands that belonged to a manor, plus the manor itself.  This was the land that the lord of the manor owned, not including the land that the tenants owned.  A barton could also mean a farmyard or a courtyard.

The word came from the old words bere, which meant "barley" and tun, which meant "stockade" or "enclosure."


Another word that you mostly only hear now as somebody's last name is mercer.  But it used to be that if you were talking about a mercer, you meant a person who sold expensive fabrics, like especially silk. The reason silk was so expensive was because you had to go sailing to China or Japan to get it, or else bring it over the Silk Road on camels.  Mom read the book Moll Flanders not too long ago, and when the main character of the book started doing bad and illegal stuff, one of the things she often did was steal silk or lace from mercers' shops.


You probably know that to mangle something means to mutilate or disfigure it.  But did you also know that a mangle is a machine with heated rollers that you can use to press laundry?  Also, in metalworking, you can squeeze metal plates between the rollers of a mangle, which probably makes the metal flatter and thinner.  I've never tried this, personally, but it seems like that is what would happen.

There is also something called a mangle board.  The Scandinavians liked to make these and decorate them with all sorts of paintings or carvings.  Usually, the handle was shaped like a horse.  The way the mangle boards were used was to roll the wrinkles out of linen cloth that had been wound on a round stick.

Another version of the mangle board was used to smooth out feather mattresses.  One side of the mangle was flat and the other was rounded.

The word mangle comes from the Dutch mangel, which was a diminutive of the Middle High German mange.  And mange came from the Latin manganum, so it's a word with a long history.  The first use of the word was in about 1696.


If you smoke a pipe full of tobacco, and when you finish smoking, you have some unburned or partly burned tobacco left in the bowl of the pipe, that is called dottle.  Who would have known there was a word for this?  It's kind of a fun word, but getting to say it is not a good excuse for smoking a pipe, because smoking is BAD FOR YOU!  The word dottle was first used about 1825.  It came from the Middle English word dottel, which was a diminutive of dot, which meant "lump."


This is a Yiddish word, and what it literally means is "air person."  A luftmensch spends most of the time thinking about airy, intellectual things instead of about practical things such as how to make a living.  A luftmensch is a dreamer with no business sense and probably no income.

I'm glad my mom is not a luftmensch, because if she was, she might not have enough money to buy food for us dogs and cats. Which would be a terrible, horrible tragedy!

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