The Bay Area Senior Advocates held their Senior Expo 2007 in Traverse City today, so I had the opportunity to see and speak to a number of listeners (Words to the Wise, AM-580, WTCM). One gentleman asked me about the phrase “brand-new,” which a vendor was using in her promotional literature. Dinner is over, so here goes some on-the-fly research.
The Oxford English Dictionary tells me that the “brand” part originally comes from the name of a piece of wood burning on the hearth. There were also literary references to the fire brands of Jove, God, Phoebus, and the Archangel that stood guard at the gates of Eden after the Fall. Flame is a dominant feature.
Later, brand referred to the mark made on livestock (or criminals!) by an iron heated in the fire, red hot like a brand of wood.
So, the underlying idea is something fresh and glowing from the fire or furnace or kiln. After a while, the burning, glowing object cools down and gets an ashy coating, but the moment it was pulled fresh from the fire, it was brand-new.
It appears in print in 1570 in John Foxe’s gloss on 2 Corinthians, v. 63: “New bodies, new minds..and all thinges new, brande-newe.”
In 1594, Shakespeare used a parallel phrase in Richard III, I. iii. 256:
Peace, master marquess, you are malapert:
Your fire-new stamp of honour is scarce current.
O, that your young nobility could judge
What 'twere to lose it, and be miserable!
They that stand high have many blasts to shake them;
And if they fall, they dash themselves to pieces.
SIDEBAR: brandnew, the band
(substitute @ for AT above)