As a reader and a book editor, I simply love words – their meanings, how they are said, even their connections to one another. How they change throughout history is also very interesting! It can be fun to trace the history, or etymology, of a word and its usage. Words are “living,” altering over time or cultural references and even with slang usage.
A few years ago we wrapped up a project called the Christian Reading Companion for 50 Classics. One of my favorite features of the book is its focus on vocabulary development. throughout the book, a word will be highlighted in a classical literary excerpt giving you the opportunity to try to determine the possible meaning, and then later find out what it means in context.
What makes this fascinating is if you have an old dictionary – a mid-20th century or even earlier – and can look back and see how a definition might have changed or how it was used at the time the literary work was originally done. Thanks to a number of online sources and websites, you can access early dictionaries and even word etymologies really easily.
Here is a great example in this excerpt from The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle that I found rather fitting considering the amount of baking to be done in upcoming holiday season:
At last, after a long time had passed, the Cook drew a full, deep breath, as though of much regret, and wiped his hands upon the napkin, for he could eat no more. Little John, also, had enough, for he pushed the pasty aside, as though he would say, “I want thee by me no more, good friend.”
Ever heard of “pasty”? Here’s a clue: it appears often in English novels.
In this context it is clearly referring to something you eat. And that something is a meat (and sometimes potato) pie or turnover! According to Merriam Webster, the word has been used since the 13th century.
In Noah Webster’s popular 1828 dictionary, one definition is:
pasty, n. [from paste.] A pie made of paste and baked without a dish
But, you may have also seen the word used to describe someone with a sickly appearance – a meaning that didn’t really appear until 1659.
Hope you have enjoyed this little blurb about “living words,” and be sure to sure to check out Christian Reading Companion for 50 Classics. If you love to read classics and you want to have a more meaningful interaction with the text, this helpful reading companion is a great resource!