Word With a Past

Word With a Past: Genocide

December 9, 2014

Genocide as an activity is probably as old as the concepts of “us” and “them”. Genocide as a word is relatively new, coined by Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in 1944, several years before the world knew about the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps As a result of studying the history of anti-Semitic pogroms in […]

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Salt

August 22, 2014

Anyone who sat through a third grade social studies lesson learned that Europe’s search for pepper changed the world. Prince Henry the Navigator, Columbus, and all that. But did you know that salt played an even bigger role in world history? Unlike pepper, we can’t live without salt. It is as essential to life as […]

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Re-Run: Word With A Past: Kidnap

May 22, 2014

I’m dipping into the archives again, because I’m in over my head here at the Margins. (So much so that I didn’t even celebrate the blog’s 3 year anniversary on May 11. Hmmmm….) We move on June 2 and to say we are not yet ready is an understatement. Too much to do, not enough […]

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Re-Run: Word With A Past–Maffick

February 28, 2014

The Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) started badly from the British point of view. British troops, supposedly the best trained and best equipped in the world, suffered a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of Boer farmers. (Anyone else hear echoes of another colonial war that pitted farmers against British regulars?) The only bright spot […]

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Word With A Past: Vaudeville

February 11, 2014

In 1648, revolution broke out in the streets of Paris. Known at the time as the Fronde ,* it was in many ways a rehearsal for the French Revolution(s) that would follow. Barricades went up in the streets. Aristocrats were pulled out of their carriages and shot at. Militias paraded in the public squares. There […]

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Word With a Past: Doing A Land Office Business

December 11, 2013

In 1785, the newly created United States, burdened by debts incurred in its war for independence, passed a Land Ordinance Act authorizing the Treasury Department to sell land in the public domain as a source of revenue.* Acting on the principle of “survey before settlement”, tracts of land were surveyed into townships and plat parcels, […]

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Word With A Past: Parchment

September 6, 2013

For hundreds of years papyrus was the principal material on which books (or at least hand-copied scrolls) were written. Since it could only be made from the pith of freshly harvested papyrus reeds, native to the Nile valley, Egypt had a monopoly on the product–and a potential monopoly on the written word. In the second […]

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Words With a Past: Strike While The Iron Is Hot

July 23, 2013

I’ve always assumed that the phrase “strike while the iron is hot” was simply a term derived from blacksmithing. I recently learned that the phrase has a history beyond the making of horseshoes and sword blades. Who would have thought it was linked to marriage? Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1754 changed the laws governing […]

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Word(s) With a Past: Two Bits

February 23, 2013

One of the favorite cheers for my junior high school’s football team went “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar, all for our team stand up and holler.” It made no sense to me, but neither did football. When the rest of the Trojan fans stood up and hollered, I stood up and hollered. […]

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Word With a Past: Silhouette

January 22, 2013

I’m poking around in the long eighteenth century these days and stumbling across lots of surprising tidbits. Take silhouettes. I had long known that charming likenesses cut from black cardstock became a popular and affordable alternative to oil portraits in the mid-eighteenth century. To the extent that I thought about the word at all, I […]

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