Friday, November 11, 2005

pigs to poetry

On a list someone asked about hairstyles, which led to pig-tails. Two braids worn by girls, someone said.

Not necessarily, I replied. The original pig tail was a single plait which was quite short and stiff (hence more like a pig's tail) worn in the 18th century when men had shoulder-length hair by simpler folk, especially sailors.

I'm not sure English people use pigtails for plaits, which is what the girls' style would be. Or a plait if it was one down the back.

Since I happened to have my facsimile edition of the 1771 Enc. Britannica right here (truly!) I looked up pig. Nothing about pig tails, but a pig of lead is "the eighth part of a fother amounting to 250 lbs weight."

All right, what's a fother, apart from being 2,000 lbs?

On that hunt I came to this site.
Usages governing the collection of tolls at Torksey in 1228 where we learn that the toll for a fother of lead is 4d. (Four pence. You know that the d comes from the Roman denarii, don't you? It makes sense really.)

What about a frail of woad, a bale of alum, and a pack of mailede?

A frail is apparently a large wicker basket and mailede is uncertain.

Elsewhere, I find that a fother is equal to 30 fotmals, which is defined as 70 "mercantile" pounds in this wonderful dictionary of units of measurement.

Where we also find the fardel meaning a fourth part, used sometimes as a unit of land area equal to 1/4 virgate, 1/2 nook, or about 8-10 acres. (There's also the firkin, the firlot and the fistmele. You can look them up for yourself.)

And fardels, of course, crops up in Shakespeare, in Hamlet's To be or not to be.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life....

Which makes me doubt the definition. Who would 8 acres bear?

Ah well, back to the research.

Jo :)
Out now. The Shattered Rose, with the skull of John the Baptist as a child.
And, the reissue of The Brides of Christmas anthology. "They've stolen the Blessed Virgin Mary!"

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