Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I caught a rerun of Arsenic and Old Lace the other night, and was delighted to discover that the years have not diminished its charms. The “old lace” referred to the decorative trim adorning the dresses of the Brewster sisters, but lace had many meanings over the centuries.

Originally, the word meant a snare or a noose used to catch an animal, although the first use cited in the Oxford English Dictionary is metaphorical: [translated] “You have caught a woman; you have a woman in your snare.”

As time went on, it meant a cord, line, or string. Eventually, that was refined to a cord threaded through eyelets to draw together opposite edges of a garment or boot. This shows up in shoelace.

In the construction trade, a lace was a tie beam or a brace. By the 16th century, it referred to the ornamental braid used for trimming coats. In that same century, it settled into what we would call lace today: the open-work fabric used to decorate sleeves, collars, and so on.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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