Saturday, August 27, 2011

Long Lost Words

I remarked to Grandgirl the other day, on spotting a girl of about twelve passing us by in those plain white tennis shoes beloved of my own adolescence when I was the same age:

"My goodness, I haven't seen a pair of plimsolls in years!"

"What?" she said, "What word was that?"

"Plimsolls," I said, noting the strangeness of the word in my mouth, a word I haven't used in maybe forty years, "That's what we called those kind of shoes then."

"Weird," she responded.

And then playing Scrabble, I used the word "Unman". I remember my father using it.

"The cancer was so bad it just about unmanned him."

And wondering about it at the time.

About a catastrophe so awful it degendered one:

1.To deprive of the distinctive qualities of a human being, as reason, or the like.
2.To emasculate; to deprive of virility.
3.To deprive of the courage and fortitude of a man; to break or subdue the manly spirit in; to cause to despond; to dishearten; to make womanish.
4.To deprive of men.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition1.To cause to give up manly courage or spirit.
2.To take away virility from; emasculate.
Wiktionary1.To castrate; to remove one's manhood.
2.To sap the strength, whether physical or emotional, required to deal with a situation.

And then I thought, is there the equivalent "unwoman"? And sure enough there is:

1.To deprive of the qualities of a woman; to unsex.
Other (1)
Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia1.To deprive of the qualities of a woman; unsex. Sandys, tr. of Ovid's Metamorph., ii.

Apparently not as cataclysmic to be unwomanned as it is to be unmanned.

Words. I love them.


  1. and now I know what a plimsoll is. (blogger doesn't recognize the word for spelling)

    We called them just sneakers. Which is funny if you think that this kind of shoe makes it easy to sneak around.

  2. I used the word plimsoll recently to my husband and he was flummoxed. Wouldn't mind, but I was using it in the nautical sense, to describe the waterline that marks the danger point for loading ships. I thought that he, as a sailor, would know about it. So then I had to tell him all about the plimsolls, or runners, I used to wear. Because my mother was thrifty, they were always black. I yearned for white ones, but no such luck.

  3. We call them gym shoes and I have them in black with white trim and white laces.

    I think I've been partially unwomaned.

  4. We called them runners and they had to be whitened for playing tennis. Do you remember that awful white stuff we used to whiten them? It reminded me of Milk of Magnesia!

    Now my dear girl, put those plimsolls in the back of the wardrobe for now. I think it will be waders or slippers for the next few days. I vote slippers and a pot of your Chili Special. I am tracking the dreaded Irene and hope she has cooled her ardour before she reaches you!

    Lán grá & hugs

  5. We called them plimsolls - yes, I remember! Sometimes the school ones were black. Also we called them gym shoes or tennis shoes - though no, tennis shoes had different lacing pattern - longer down towards the toeline - I preferred those.

    Unmanned - I hadn't heard it used in that way (de-gendering). I've heard or read it used to descibe a vehicle or boat without a driver/steerer - 'the truck was unmanned.'

    Words are wondrous things, I agree.

  6. Ooh, you can unman me any time you like. I was never very manned in the first place.

    They're still called runners in Oz. Apparently the word plimsoll derived from a resemblance to plimsoll lines on ships. Supposedly they're called gutties in Northern Ireland but I've never heard the word.

  7. You called them Plimsols and we called them Bata Tennis shoes. They were ubiquitous and we would spend hours washing them and polishing them with a piece of wet cloth and a white cake of something or the other. I don't think that they are available any more, but the next time I go out, I shall investigate.

    I love words too. I just used the world nebulous today! Was very pleased with myself when that popped up in my brain at the most appropriate time.

  8. I learned the word plimsole from books. We called them Keds in California, where I'm from, whether they were actually that brand or not.

  9. Yeah, Keds were what my kids insisted they had to have.

  10. Scrabble is a great way to expand vocabulary. Being in Scotland, I know all your words.


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