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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, May 20, 2011

Word of the week: Cottage

Here in Canada, it's the beginning of a long weekend, with Monday being "Victoria Day", in honour of Queen Victoria's birthday on May 24th. Yes, we know she's not the queen anymore, but why would we give up an opportunity to celebrate spring and drink (an activity which accounts for the holiday's nickname in Ontario, May Two-Four, "two-four" being Canadian slang for a case of 24 beer)?

For many it's time to barrel (or more likely crawl) down the highway to “cottage country” (also a Canadian term) and open up their lakeside residence for the summer. The Old English cot or cote (as in “dovecote”) was a humble dwelling. Just as we have “bag” and “baggage”, a “cottage” was a cot along with its various appurtenances, such as a yard for the chickens. For centuries, cottages were definitely down-market. 

Then, in the 1700s, a back-to-nature movement, exemplified by Marie-Antoinette playing shepherdess at her bucolic “hamlet” at Versailles, took Europe by storm. It became trendy for the well-to-do English to retreat from their London mansions to smaller and simpler country houses, which, with a kind of inverse snobbery, they called “cottages”. The name came to be applied to summer lakeside residences in late-19th-century North America.

2 comments:

  1. Wordlady, you've just inspired me to add rather more than I wanted to my skimpy education. I googled cottaging and cottagers and discovered that owning/vacationing in such lakeside residences is not the primary meaning of these two words. Being a spinster librarian who has led a very sheltered life I was dismayed by this discovery.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Felicity, yes, that was a new one to me when we edited the dictionary too. We lexicographers become unshockable after a while...
    I thought about mentioning it in this post but then thought better of it.

    ReplyDelete

About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.