Saturday, July 9, 2011

All roads lead to the temperance literature

Elephantine readers! I had an irritating free-food experience today. On my way to work this morning I nearly walked into a sign somewhere saying there would be free food at noon. Naturally I went back at noon for the free food, to find nothing but sesame sticks, lukewarm lemonade, and cupcakes next to a sign saying "LET THEM EAT CAKE" -- funny at some level but very disruptive. The advertising was horribly misleading, I think: free food at noon is a technical term that means lunch, not snacks and definitely not cake. 

When I IM'ed CWA to vent about this she responded with a "no free lunch" joke, which led to my poking around in Google n-grams for "free lunch" and coming upon the free lunch chapter in Substitutes for the Saloon (which, as you no doubt remember, I had previously blogged about):
The free lunch is free only in the sense that when a
man has bought a drink, he is not charged for eating. [...] 
The quality of these lunches varies a good deal. Where 
the competition is not great, or where the license is 
high, the free lunch is not so attractive. In Boston, 
New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia the ordinary 
saloons certainly do not serve a very abundant or a 
very appetizing free lunch. Usually this lunch is cold. 
Where a hot lunch is found, it will almost always con- 
sist of soup with bread. The cold lunch is generally 
made up of the following articles : Bread, crackers, 
and wafers ; cheese, bologna sausage, wienerwurst, cold 
eggs, sliced tomatoes, cold meats, salads, pickles and 
other relishes. The demand is commonly for something 
sour or salt. The consumption of pickles, salt meats, 
sauerkraut, and potato salad runs far ahead of anything 
else. The drinking man's stomach seems to crave the 
acid. A workingman does not need to eat very heart- 
ily of the free lunch in order to appease his hunger. 
A slice or two of bread, a few pickles, and a small 
piece of meat with the beer is all that many of them 
eat at noontime. The meagre lunch which many of 
the saloons in our Eastern cities afford is perfectly 
adequate to the needs of a great majority of drinkers.
(It goes on to talk about various things, including racial attitudes toward free lunches in the early years of Jim Crow.)

2.. There was a Language Log post this morning about chemists' (and materials scientists') use of "imbibe" in a "causative" sense -- e.g., "Mixtures of lutidine and water imbibed in porous Vycor" or "[some people] made their composite by imbibing nanoporous gold (pictured) with an electrolyte" -- which turns out to have been the way Chaucer used the word. As Liberman notes,
it seems that the historical progression was exactly the reverse of what I expected: first the causative subject-causes-object-to-take-in-liquid, then the metaphorical sense of drinking in ideas, and last the simple subject-takes-in-liquid. Go figure.
This talk of "imbibing" led me to search for the relevant medieval Latin song, which naturally took me to Alcohol in History (written by a theologian, also most probably part of Calista's original list), which has the following folk etymology for honeymoon:
Mead was also a favorite drink among the ancient Germans, and according to Henderson, it was customary to drink it for thirty days after a marriage. Hence, probably the familiar expression, the Honey-moon.

Regrettably, very folk. OED seems to have no etymological note at all, but the Online Etymology Dictionary has this to say:
1540s, hony moone, but probably much older, "indefinite period of tenderness and pleasure experienced by a newly wed couple," from honey in reference to the new marriage's sweetness, and moon in reference to how long it would probably last, or from the changing aspect of the moon: no sooner full than it begins to wane. French has cognate lune de miel, but German version is flitterwochen (pl.), from flitter "tinsel" + wochen "week." In figurative use from 1570s. Specific sense of "post-wedding holiday" attested from c.1800; as a verb in this sense from 1821.

So the German for honeymoon isn't even cognate... again, this is perhaps an unexpected usage history, as the specific use is centuries later than the figurative one.

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