"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Spick and span
Spick and span means entirely new - fresh or unused. What is unclear is the origin of the phrase. It can be traced back as far as Sir Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Lives of the noble Grecians and Romanes, 1579:
"They were all in goodly gilt armours, and brave purple cassocks apon them, spicke, and spanne newe."
By the 1660s spicke and spanne-newe had turned into spicke and span and appears in Samuel Pepys' Diary, 1665:
"My Lady Batten walking through the dirty lane with new spicke and span white shoes."
My usual source of word origins is the Oxford English Dictionary but it has a dubious origin for this phrase and says the old Dutch word spikspeldernieuw refers to newly made ships. It suggests that this is the origin of spick but offers no reason for that belief and none of the early citations of the phrase refer to shipping.
In fact the noun spick had many different meanings including a side of bacon, a floret of lavender, a nail or spike, and a thatching spar. Similarly, span had several meanings, including: the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger, a measure of butter, a fetter or chain, and a chip of wood. As a result all sorts of combinations are possible but at the end of the day the derivation of the term isn't clear and the best efforts to explain it so far are little more than informed guesses.
My daughter Helen commented in November 2008 in her Blog that she was now keeping a notebook of new words that she came across during her reading. "This week I bought a lovely little leather bound book to write new words in as I read them . I've added a few from "1984", but my favourite has to be persiflage (from the French persifler) which means banter." I later discovered that my older daughter, Bryony, also kept a similar notebook.
This inspired me to create a Word blog. This will include both new words, favourite words and the origins of phrases that we commonly use. A definition and some comment, perhaps even a relevant quotation, will acompany the word or phrase.
“I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me.” - Winnie the Pooh
I'm a blogger - nowadays that seems to be my main occupation and Rambles from My Chair is my main blog. I’m a retired local government executive - now studying how to survive a neurological disorder that gives me various problems but, hopefully, a whole new outlook on life and an increased sense of humour and perspective. I enjoy all manner of communication apart from the telephone and am constantly e-mailing, texting, writing postcards and letters and commenting on other people's blogs.
Scriptor Senex is Latin for Old Writer and my real name is John but I've almost forgotten that nowadays...
“He’s not so old. He’s just the age that he is, that’s all.” (Gerald Hammond)