Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nice, Mean, Fine, Rude.

Here are some words we have run across in old books, that have different meanings in older writings than we attach to them today.

Have you ever said something was "nice?" Used in our time it can mean that someone is very kind:

"What a nice neighbor you have! She bakes you cookies!"

or that something is admirable and you really like it:

"Wow! That new haircut looks really nice on you!"

 or that something was good enough but you'd rather not commit yourself to warm praise:

"Honey, what do you think of this dress with the giant flowers and frogs jungle print on me?"
"It's nice."
"What did you think of the pie I made tonight-- did it need more sugar?"
"It was nice."

The latest use that is in vogue rather annoys me-- that is the long, drawn out, Niiiiiicccce that really means nothing at all.

"What have you been up to lately?"
"Doing lots of studying for tests in school" (rolls eyes)

In olden days, "Nice" was more likely to mean something close to "picky." "She was too nice" did not mean that the lady was a very kind, amiable personage. It meant that she was  particular in her tastes, and in this case too particular, and perhaps that was not a good trait. To be "nice" in your eating would have meant to be particular with your food, or maybe picky with the kinds of food you would eat, but it did not mean that you had perfectly polite table manners.

Why should we care about all that old usage? Because we will get the wrong idea if we come across this word in old literature, unless we know all the facets of it.

When They Were Young: Marconi - Inventor of Wireless

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Another word is "mean." We perhaps think of someone that is "mean" as the opposite of someone that is "nice."

"Bobby is just so mean-- he threw my ball into the mud."

In the olden days, "mean" could indicate something rough, base, crude-- as in a "mean hut."  Perhaps Bobby is poor and lives in a mean hut-- a shack where the porch is about to fall off and the roof leaks when it rains. He eats a mean meal from a mean table-- and that makes him cranky or cruel.

Girl Stands in a Field Reading Her Book

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"Fine" is another word that has many meanings. Most often, I hear it when people ask, "How are you?"

"I'm fine."

Used in that way, it means you are well, or that you really don't want to say, so it covers everything from exceptionally well to just feeling rather blah. I've heard it used this way:

"I'm finer than frog's hair."

That is actually a reference to an old use of the word "fine," which meant very small, minute, thin, or delicate. If you can see frog's hair you would be seeing something very "fine."

The word is also used in old literature to mean something good, beautiful  or commendable--

"What a fine watch!"

"She has fine manners."

"It is a fine afternoon!" (meaning a lovely day)

As well as something extraordinary:

"He had seen, he thought, all the finest structures in the world, and the finest of them all was our own Palace of Westminster." -an old architecture book

The Beach

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"Rude" hasn't changed in one meaning, if you are speaking of a ruffian who is without manners. However sometimes in old books the other meanings are used. "Rude" can mean rough or rugged, and "rudely" can mean not very well done. For instance, a wooden board crookedly sawed by someone unskilled with tools may be "rudely cut," and if it wasn't sanded smooth it could be called a "rude" board. The person who sawed it may not be rude, but his work may turn out to be rude!

An Interior with a Girl Reading at a Desk

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(An online Webster's 1828 dictionary can be found here. It is a very valuable reference when reading books over 100 years old.)

("School Days" title painting by Myles Foster Birket)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"...if she might go to live at your house..."

I posted about my co-ownership of a new doll a while back. I was thinking my ongoing quest for an 18" doll probably made a boring post, as not many people would have the same interest in dolls as I do, but someone might find it amusing! I went on with other things, thinking that, with the doll from the craft store,  I could at last put to rest the 20+-year dream of owning one of those Pleasant Company dolls.

Last week, I got a package in the mail from another blogger. I opened it up and saw some pink fabric, and thought "how nice! I'll bet it's a pretty dress or something she wanted to pass on." There was a card, so I read it before unloading the box. It said:

"After reading your last blog post, 
our Samantha doll asked 
(very politely, of course) 
if she might go live at your house..."

you can imagine that I was

I unwrapped the yards of pink fabric, and I simply could not believe it.

Lest I should lose my speech permanantly with the shock of it, I went a few seconds later and found someone I could tell about it. My powers of speech were still a bit lost, though, so I just thrust the note out and had them read it for themselves.

I just could not believe that someone would let Samantha go! It was such a sweet gesture! I was well assured that Samantha came from a family of doll-lovers and collectors who wanted to share of their plenty.
I still can hardly believing it! After all these years, I just can't believe that Samantha is sitting here looking at me.

Samantha wrote them a note a few days later telling them of her safe arrival. I'm so glad she wanted to come and live with me, and I think she'll be very happy here:)

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Homemaking: a few Kitchen Tips

Grinding Coffee

Grinding Coffee

Charles Henri...

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So long as we have homes to which men turn 
At close of day;
So long as we have homes where children are 
And women stay;
If love and loyalty and faith be found
Across those sills, 
A stricken nation can recover from 
Its greatest ills.
-Grace Noll Crowell

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

Carl Larsson

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For delicious French toast, add a touch of vanilla, some cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg to the beaten eggs. It gives a sweet taste to the toast that maple syrup enhances.

When cleaning the kitchen, do the perimeters first and the dishes last. Clear the table, clear the stove, wipe down the stove top, wipe down cabinet doors, etc. By the time you get to the dishes, your kitchen is half done and you feel more encouraged.

Kitty's Breakfast

Kitty's Breakfast

Emily Farmer

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The fairest home? It is not placed 
'Mid scenes with outward beauty graced;
But where kind words and smiles impart
A constant sunshine to the heart. 

On such a home of peace and love
God showers His blessings from above;
And angels watching o'er it cry, 
"Lo! This is like our home on high."

News from the Front

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If you have ever tried to incorporate beans into your weekly menus, here is a great way to eliminate the steps of soaking, cooking, and seasoning dried beans: use the slow cooker. The slow cooker does it all in one step. Start the night before, and put in your beans and seasonings.  Check the water level after a few hours as it evaporates, and add more if needed. Make sure to put it enough salt, seasonings and some sugar, molasses, etc. (a little more than you think!) for tastiest results, otherwise the beans will taste bland and watery. I find adding a dash of vinegar enhances the taste, as well. A mixture of different kinds of beans makes a nice soup. You can do baked beans or Mexican beans for refried beans, etc. by adding appropriate sauces and seasonings. Cook on low all night long, and by lunch the next day, your beans will be soft and ready to serve.

Editor's Note: Since writing the above, I think the advice may apply only to the freshest (newer)  beans. Beans from the bulk section of the grocery store may be fresher than the pre-bagged kinds on the shelves. Old beans do require some soaking, I have found, or else they do not soften nicely. But soaking isn't so hard, is it? And cooking beans in the slow cooker is SO much easier than on the stove-- no boiling over, for instance!
Illustration of Mother and Daughter Baking Together by Douglass Crockwell

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Special Day

Signing the Register by Edmund Blair Leighton

Scattered like flowers o'er they life's bright way, 
May hopes fulfilled and sweetest joy be thine;
Linking with fragrant chain each golden day.