Are you Rip-Van-Winkleish?

How about hoary, pigtantiquarianaily, brontosaurian, rusty-dusty, mossy-backed, or square-toed? If so, then you belong with us! Each of these terms were once synonyms for Antiquarian, according to AAS’s recently acquired copy of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. A recent New York Times article described the historical thesaurus: “Archaism, it turns out, is the point of the H.T.O.E.D., which includes outmoded words as well as contemporary ones and indicates when words came into and fell out of use.” Now archaism is an area we Antiquarians know something about.

Putting aside the unfortunate acronym (which sounds like a close linguistic sibling to “square-toed”), the H.T.O.E.D. is like sticky candy for anyone interested in words and history. The nutritive value may be hazy, but once you tear into it you may get stuck. If you’re the kind of person who spends hours browsing through the original O.E.D., be forewarned: the historical thesaurus version is at least as addictive. Not only do you get the birth-dates of words we use today, this O.E.D. 2.0 includes extinct words and their exact death-date when known.

On one of our recent snowy days, when the reading room inside was as silent as the street outside, I opened the H.T.O.E.D. up. In the section on oldness/ancientness (or number, vol. 1, p. 706, if you’re following along in your H.T.O.E.D.) I found the listing for antiquarian (1610-): one who is interested in oldness/ancientness. Below are some of my favorite gleanings from this section.

Earlier term: antiquary (1586-)
Later terms: man of cabinets (1698), antiquist (1784-), archaist (1851)

An item that is “Antiquarian” could also be described as:

  • hoary (1609-)
  • superannuated (1633-)
  • trunk-hosed (1643-1647)
  • old-timey (1850-)
  • old-fangled (1842-)
  • brontosaurian (1909-1977)
  • pigtaily (1859)
  • retardataire (1958-)
  • rusty-dusty/rusty-fusty (1593; 1864)

A person who is an “Antiquarian” could also be referred to as:

  • mumpsimus (1575-1815)
  • fogramite (1823-1832)
  • grey-headed (1600-1753)
  • old-school (1886)
  • foozle (1860)
  • mossy-back (1878)
  • square-toed (1795)
  • mildewed (1605-)
  • wormy (1611)
  • fusty (1606-)
  • musty (1637-)
  • dead-handed (1928)
  • Rip-Van-Winkleish (1829-)

Between 1828-1864, in colloquial parlance you could antiquarianize, or act as a lover of antiquities. Also, an antiquarium (1881) was a repository that contained antiquities (and all this time, I thought people were just mispronouncing our name!).

What can we take from this lexicographical information? For one thing, at one point in history you could say with some hope of successful communication that: A mumpsimus fogramite antiquarianized his superannuated, pigtaily retardataire items and put them in an antiquarium (although I’m sure I got many parts of speech wrong in that sentence).

Not only can historical terms become nonsensical, they can also twist meanings in interesting and also humorous ways. When I first suggested starting an AAS Glossary, one of Past is Present‘s quick-witted readers posted a hillarious comment about an undergraduate student misinterpreting the term “intercourse” in its eighteenth-century context. She suggested others might have similar stories of historical terms gone awry in a modern context. If you have such stories, please share them.

But historical terminology is not just a funny footnote in history. Names are powerful.

Consider this post a manifesto calling for a whole-hearted embrace of the label Antiquarian in all its mossy-backed glory. It is a name that has stood the test of time. It says we know who we are. We are lovers of the past. We are going to collect it, to preserve it, and to make it accessible to the world. And we are proud of that fact, whether it is fashionable at the moment or not.

So the next time someone walks into the building and asks: “Where are the fish?,” or alternatively wonders what we have against sea life that makes us anti-aquarium, I will proudly explain the history of the term Antiquarian. I will antiquarianize with joy and I invite you to join with me.

After all, the American Rusty-Dusty Society just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

Published by

Elizabeth Watts Pope

Curator of Books, American Antiquarian Society

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *