WALKING the other day through one of the busy streets of London and glancing at the varied novelties and splendours of the shops, this question occurred to us: 'Whence do the shopkeepers get their Greek?' It is not, we can assure the reader, a very easy question to answer: we confess to be puzzled by it. Take, for instance, this tailor with a comprehensive mind; he draws our attention to his 'Anaxyridian trousers.' Now, what does he mean by Anaxyridian, and how and where did he compose the word? He tells us that his trousers are so cut that they remain as a fixture to the heel without straps or braces; and we suppose we are to infer that this property is expressed by the word Anaxyridian. We can the more readily believe this, because Mr Puff. in the Critic, made Lord Burleigh express by a single shake of the head the doctrine, that even though they had more justice in their cause, and wisdom in their measures, yet if there was not a greater spirit shewn on the part of the people, the party would at last fall a sacrifice to the hostile ambition of the Spanish monarchy ;' and although Mr Sneer expressed a doubt whether his lordship could convey so much by a mere shake of the head, Mr Puff settled it conclusively by saying: ' Every word of it—if he shook his head as I taught him.' In the same way, we suppose, Anaxyridian ought to convey the idea of traceless and strapless trousers, if we only use our Greek as the tailor wishes. But where, we ask again, did the tailor find or make his Greek? Did he obtain a dictionary, and compound a word of several Greek particles? or has he a promising son, who is picking up bits of Greek at school? or did he beg or borrow a little Greek from one of his well-to-do customers? All these matters, perchance, are anion, the secrets of trade, and our attempt to bring them to light has failed.
One thing is certain, that manufacturers and shopkeepers are becoming remarkably prone to the use of fine hard unknown names. An 'emporium' sounds much more important than a 'shop;' ergo, it is better to keep an emporium than a shop; ergo, it is desirable to give your shop the dignity of an emporium. But it is in the names of commodities that this superhuman learning shows itself: we do not know how great our Greek and Latin knowledge is until we have studied the sign-boards and shop advertisements. Nor is it merely Greek and Latin; there are French, and Italian, and original, and composite names in good store. Let us see around us a little.
The names which manufacturers give to their woven goods are so capricious, that we cannot fix them down under any rule at all. Sometimes the name is an elaborate combination of Greek or Latin syllables, to denote in some degree the quality of the cloth; sometimes it is an imported French, or Italian, or Spanish name; frequently it is the name of a town or a district ; quite as frequently it is the name of a person. Among cotton goods we find 'saccharillas,' 'nainsooks,' 'tarlatans,' 'surougs," grandvilles,' 'Selampores,' 'denims,' 'panos da Costa,' 'Polynesian swansdown' (did the cotton come from the breast of a swan, and did it grow in Polynesia?) 'doeskins, and moleskins, and lambskins' 'coutils,' and a host of other queer examples. The woollen and worsted people are not less liberal in nomenclature, for they give us 'anti-rheumatic flannel,' 'swanskin,' 'valencias,' 'reversible Witneys,' 'double-surfaced beavers,' 'Himalayas,' 'satin-face doeskins' (a doe would hardly know herself with such a face), 'fur Janus beavers,' 'Moscow beavers,' 'Alpa Vicunas,' 'three-point Mackinaws,' 'barege-de-laine,' 'Saxes Coburgs,' 'Orleans,' 'napped pilots,' 'double Napiers,' 'elephanta ribs,' 'elephant beavers' (unknown to naturalists, certainly), 'rhinoceros skins,' 'paramattas', ' barracans,' 'moskittos,' stockinettes,' wildboars,' 'aravenas ponchos,' 'princettas,' 'plain backs,' 'fear-noughts,' 'chameleons,' 'figured Amazonians,' 'alpaca incas and madelinas,' 'velillos,' and 'cristales,' and 'cubicas,' 'Circassians,' 'madonnas,' 'balzarines,' 'durants,' and 'cotillions,' 'Genappes,' 'Henriettas,' 'rumswizzles'— all, be it observed, varieties of woollen and worsted goods. Nor do the silk-weavers forget to supply us with 'mayonettes,' ' diaphanes,' 'glace gros d'Afrique,' 'brocatelles,' 'barrattheas,' 'armoyine royales,' Balmorals,' 'paraphantons,' 'Radzimores,' 'moiré antiques,' 'Algerias,' 'levantines,' and other oddly-named goods. The flax-folks, too, have their own favourite list ; such as 'dowlases,' 'ducks,' 'drills,' 'huckabacks,' 'gray Baden Badens,' 'diapers,' 'drabbets,' 'tickings," 'crankies,' 'commodores,' 'Wellingtons,' 'towellings,' 'dusters,' 'paddings,' 'Osnaburgs,' 'ficklenburgs', 'Silesias,' 'platillas,' 'estopillas,' 'bretanas,' 'creas legitimas,' &c.
The boot-and-shoe fraternity have their own list of fine names. We talk not of the 'red morocco leg patent goloshed vandyked button boot,' or the 'ladies' ottoman silk goloshed elastic button gaiter,' because these are simply heapings-up of words one upon another, to astound the purchaser with a verbal crash. But the 'soccopedes elasticus' is much more classical : do we not feel at once, even in the very words, the softness of the ladies' elastic silk-boots? Our old friends the 'acmé' boots seem to have died away, and all we can recollect concerning them, is the first two lines of some beautiful poetry which the bootmaker addressed to his customers :—
Acmé boots and shoes you'll find
Better than any other kind.
The 'pannuscorium boots' ought surely to be worn by every Latin school-boy ; and the 'resilient boots' are little less worthy of attention.
The tailors beat the bootmakers hollow in their Latin and Greek. The 'subclavian sector' is tremendous—it sounds so surgical-like ; it is, however, very innocent—nothing more than a tailor's measure. And a tailor's measure, likewise, is the 'registered symmetrometer.' We are afraid to say how many learned names besides 'siphonia' are given to waterproof garments. The 'unique habit,' cut in one piece, and having no seam on the top of the shoulder, or the outside of the arm, or down the middle of the back, is one among many examples of an ambitious kind of tailoring; of which Mr Watts's 'complete coat, trousers, and waistcoat, in one piece, without any seam,' is another. And if 'unique' be a good name, why not 'bis-unique?' There is, accordingly, the 'bis-unique or reversible garment,' a cunning device, which presents two sides: you turn your coat or vest inside out, and present another surface of a different colour, both surfaces being prepared and finished sufficiently for external show. The 'Anaxyridian trousers' we have already duly honoured, and have only to hope that the wearers, depending abidingly on the soundness of the Greek, will find that the trousers 'remain as a fixture to the heel without straps or braces.' The bis-unique theory is carried to P. further stage by another tailor, for he has coined the name 'monomeroskiton'—long enough to form a very pretty Greek lesson—for a, 'single-piece coat, cut from one piece of cloth.' So far as we can venture to guess, the 'duplexa' must be first-cousin to this bis-unique family ; for it is a 'morning and evening coat, intended to answer the purpose of two garments of opposite character.' The 'anti-rheumatic belt and drawers' we will say nothing about, for rheumatism has, unfortunately, become quite as much English as Greek. The 'registered auto-crematic gown,' which is prevented from falling from the shoulders by the nicety of its cut, and the adjustment of elastic springs, must surely be a treasure, even for the sake of its name. The 'patent euknemeda,' a cloth or leather fastening for stays and ladies' dresses, seems scarcely soft and ladylike enough in its sound for such delicate use ; but it looks like Greek, and therefore we suppose it will do very well.
Nor have hats, and bonnets, and hosiery, and shirts been left unadorned with Greek and Latin trimmings. The 'ventilating chaco' will not perplex us much, because the chaco (chako, sliaco, shako), as a foreign name for a military-hat, is becoming naturalised among us. But Mr Fox's 'korychlamyd' is a crusher. Of course no one knows what it means, and this enhances the importance. It seems to be a new kind of helmet-cap; but we much prefer the idea of a military officer saying to Jeames, his servant: 'Bring me my korychlamyd.' The 'novum pileum' hat suggests this query: Did the Latins ever wear silk hats ? The 'areophane bonnet,' a pretty name for a pretty garment, is too transparently beautiful to seem like hard Greek. As to 'goffered crinoline,' the two words appear to be French; and the material so named is, we believe, used not only for bonnets, but for garments which men-folk are supposed to know nothing about. The 'brayama gloves,' from Nottingham, rather puzzle us; we know not what the name can import. But O for an 'el dorado shirt!' This must surely be a golden fit. The shirt-makers are bold polyglottists; for besides the 'dorado,' we have the 'eureka,' and the 'corazza,' and the 'giubba,' and the 'elastique transpirante,' and the 'tourist sottanello,' and others so bedizened with names that we can scarcely recognise then as plain, honest, well-meaning shirts. Another member of the series, the 'registered sans-pli shirt,' is, we believe, made without those crinkum-crankums which seamstresses call gathers. Collars, cravats, gloves, stockings, braces, all have obtained proof that the schoolmaster is abroad, or rather in the shop: all are now tricked out with fine and high-sounding names.
The patent-medicine people are famous hands at their Greek, and Latin, and florid nomenclature. It is just possible that a purchaser will deem the medicine more powerful and efficacious, if it have a fine long hard name: we strongly suspect that some such purchasers are anion- our own personal acquaintance. Has not Mr Rowland sold much more `Macassar,' and 'kalydor,' and 'odonto,' and 'dentifrice,' than if those perfumes had had more simple names? And then think of the 'rondoletia soap,' the 'poudre subtile,' the 'oriental Oil,' the 'almond tablet,' the 'oxaline,' the 'pomade divine,' and such-like adjuncts to the toilet. The 'cough elixir,' the 'ophthalmic ointment,' the 'tonic pills,' the `bunion solvent,' the 'tonic invigorating restorative,' the 'polar liniment for chilblains,' the 'infallible preventive specific,' the 'collyrium' for the eyes, the 'tooth tincture,' the 'anti-consumptive liniment,' the 'astringent antiseptic tooth-powder'—we may safely consider the little bits of Greek and Latin comprised in these names as so much capital to the seller, yielding, good monetary returns.
Pottery used to be pottery, but now it is 'ceramic' manufacture. 'Burnt clay' would be a poor dull name, but 'terra cotta' has a fine aesthetic Italian sound about it. Fine china is not a good enough name for statuette material ; we must call it 'Parian.' Although we do not use any hot wax in ornamenting our tiles, yet we like to talk of 'encaustic tiles.' Our fathers and mothers delighted to look at a magic lantern, but we must have either a 'camera obscura ' or a 'phantasmagoria;' or both. Our exhibitions would once draw shillings by the aid of simple English names, but we must now have 'dioramas,' 'cosmoramas,' 'cycloramas,' 'panoramas,' 'polytechnics,' 'pantechnicons.' Musical instrument-makers have rushed into Greek and Latin, like other manufacturers: they give us 'piccolos,' 'harmoniums,' 'microchordians,' 'microphonic pianos,' 'aeolians," ophicleides,' 'cornopeans,' 'floetinas,' 'flutinas," 'accordions,' 'concertinas,' 'melodeons,' 'seraphines,' 'autophons,' 'serpentcleides,' 'enharmonic' guitars and organs, 'symphonions,' 'zeolophons;' while, for time and tone measuring instruments, we have such brave names as 'metronomes,' 'tonimeters,' and 'normae virium.' Ought the world to remain ignorant of music after all this ? Shorthand is 'stenography,' and good writing is ' calligraphy ;' and open-air exercises are 'gymnastics,' and ladies' gymnastics are 'callisthenics.'
Some of these latter examples are more professional, more gentlemanly, more polished ; but the real shopkeepers' Greek is the most curious : it is curious often because of its incongruity, and also because one wonders how and by whom it was concocted. There was a company started a year or two ago under the tremendous name of the 'British Exodus, or National Emigration Fund of the Hunter River Gold-mining Company'—a name which we can understand in spite of its length, because the component words are nearly all familiar ; but if we are to meet with many more 'anaxyridians,' ' monomeroskitons,' ' euknemedas,' and 'korychlamyds,' there is but one resource—we must walk through Holborn and the Strand with a Greek dictionary in hand!
Chambers Edinburgh Journal, 1853