Thursday, September 27, 2007



Great Expectations, Charles Dickens:
“. . .her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers. . . .”

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray:
“All his suspicions, which he had been trying to banish, returned upon him. She could not even go out and sell her trinkets to free him.”

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen:
“She was answered by having a small trinket-box placed before her, and being requested to choose from among several gold chains and necklaces.”

There are at least six meanings for the word trinket, many of them totally unrelated to each other. The first noun meaning listed below is the one we frequently use, and it is operative in the opening quotations.

trinket n.
• A small ornament or fancy article, usually an article of jewelry for personal adornment.
• an item of little value.
• A small drinking vessel; a cup, mug.
• A kind of sail; esp. the triangular sail before the mast, in a lateen-rigged vessel.
• A small or narrow channel or watercourse.

trinket v.
• To have clandestine communications or underhand dealings with; to intrigue with; to act in an underhand way, prevaricate.
• To deck out with trinkets.

The origin of our current sense is uncertain. OED suggests there is a slender chance that it may be related to the phrase “to trick out,” meaning to decorate with baubles or trifling ornaments.

Two related words are trinketry (articles of personal decoration or of ornament viewed as trinkets or toys), and trinkety (of little importance; trivial, paltry).

Trinket and trinketing in the sense “items of little value” are enjoying a revival thanks to computer games.

SIDEBAR: World of Warcraft Terminology Guide

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