While it was not my intention to solely focus on European and North American holiday traditions, the Oxford English Dictionary includes very few entries (or few entries with more than one definition) for non-Christian Winter Holiday Celebrations. Initially, this made me frustrated at the OED. Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, and Kwanzaa (to name a few) are all legitimate parts of English-speaking societies around the world. Why aren’t their verbal histories being recorded? But then I realized (and perhaps this is giving the OED too much credit, I don’t know), maybe this says something less about the source itself and more about the power structures of the world we live in. I can’t help but remember what my History of the English Language professor practically made a refrain for the entire quarter: the history of a language isn’t the history of what’s spoken the most, it’s the history of who’s in power. With this in mind, it begins to make sense that there are seemingly endless OED entries for “plum-pudding” and one single entry for Challah.
Author’s note: The date and definition of each word is only the Oxford English Dictionary’s first known recording of the word’s use (in English). The purpose of this is to showcase how and when different definitions for words developed. I found it surprising that in some cases common modern definitions were not used for hundreds of years after the word’s first use.
In each listed word, I have purposefully left out usages and definitions that I found repetitive or irrelevant. As such, this should not be considered an exhaustive or comprehensive list of word use, past meanings, or etymologies. All definitions, dates, and records of publication are directly taken from the OED.
PLUM PUDDING, noun
Etymology: Old English, plumae and Middle English podding
1630: All the Works of John Taylore: A suet pudding with raisins; spec. a rich boiled pudding made with raisins, currants, and spices, sometimes flavored with brandy or another spirit and traditionally served at Christmas.
1811: Juvenile Correspondences: A pudding consisting of fresh plums contained in a crust.
1851: Moby Dick: Part of the muscular flesh of a whale.
1900: Los Angeles Times: A type of trench mortar shell.
1907: Current Literature: In Physics— designating a model of the atom in which negatively charged electrons are distributed throughout a positively charged medium.
Etymology: multiple origins, French:hournement and Latin ōrnāmentum
c1225: The English text of the Ancrene Riwle: An accessory or adjunct, primarily functional, but often also fancy or decorative; (in pl.) equipment, trappings, furniture, attire.
c1384: Wycliffite’s Bible: The accessories or furnishings of a church or temple; the sacred vessels, vestments, etc., employed in religious worship, esp. in the celebration of the Eucharist.
1422: Secret Secret: A person who enhances or adds distinction to his or her sphere, time, etc.
1531: The Boke Name the Gouernour: A quality, characteristic, or circumstance conferring beauty, grace, honour, etc.
1600: Merchant of Venice: Outward show or display.
1664: Brief Introduction to Skill Musick: A grace note; a decorative note used to embellish a melody.
c1450: Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabulary: The breast of an animal, the part immediately covering the breast-bone. Also, as a joint of meat.
1774: R. Fergusson’s Poems: The human breast.
Etymology: Dutch, koekje
1754: Edward Burt, Letters: In Scotland the usual name for a baker’s plain bun; in U.S. usually a small flat sweet cake (a biscuit in U.K.), but locally a name for small cakes of various form with or without sweetening.
1920: Collier’s: A woman; especially an attractive girl.
1928: Chicago Tribune: Used with a modifying adjective expressing some positive personal quality. e.g. “smart cookie”
1943: American Speech: A bomb.
Etymology: Middle English, fruit and Middle English, kake
1848: What I Saw in California: A cake containing fruit.
1935: Heart Specialist: A crazy or eccentric person; one who is insane.
Etymology: Old English, gingebrar
1299: Durham Manuscript Burs. Roll: A kind of plain cake, compounded with treacle, and highly flavoured with ginger. Formerly made into shapes of men, animals, letters of the alphabet, etc., which were often gilded.
1605: The History of the Tryall of Chevalry: A type of something or someone showy and unsubstantial.
1699: A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew: Money (slang).
Etymology: Old French, çuquere and Old English, plumae
1608: Langhorne & Candle-light: Something very pleasing or agreeable, esp. when given as a sop or bribe.
1668: Sir William Davenant’s Works: A small round or oval sweetmeat, made of boiled sugar and variously flavoured and coloured; a comfit.
1681: J. Evelyn’s Diary: A kind of fossil.
1788: Letter to Mrs. H. More: verb, to reward or pacify with sweetmeats; hence, to pet, cosset.
Etymology: Old English, ham
c1000: Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabulary: That part of the leg at the back of the knee; the hollow or bend of the knee.
1552: Abcedarium Anglico Latinum: The back of the thigh; the thigh and buttock collectively.
1650: The Historie of the Kirk of Scotland : The thigh of a slaughtered animal, used for food; spec. that of a hog salted and dried in smoke or otherwise; also, the meat so prepared.
1882: Sporting and Dramatic News: An inexpert performer; an ineffective or over-emphatic actor, one who rants or overacts. slang (orig. U.S.).
1919: Jargon Book: An amateur telegraphist; now esp. an amateur radio operator.
1941: Traitor’s Purse: Clumsy, ineffective, incompetent.
Etymology: Latin, sancta
1450: Knight de la Tour: A female saint.
1773: N.Y. Gazette: In nursery language, the name of an imaginary personage, who is supposed, in the night before Christmas day, to bring presents for children, a stocking being hung up to receive his gifts. Also, a person wearing a red cloak or suit and a white beard, to simulate the supposed Santa Claus to children, esp. in shops or on shopping streets.
1929: The Sound and the Fury: Christmas presents; Christmas delicacies.