Interesting names and words from yesteryear
Feb 26, 2020 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Learning about history doesn’t have to conjure up images of dusty books housed in stuffy rooms encircled by columns. Uncovering the past can be thrilling – and dare I say it – even a bit silly at times! Introducing yourself to the people, places, things, and events that are no longer top-of-mind often leads to unexpected discoveries and connections. Just check out our articles about happy vintage accidents or cool historical moments to see examples of the fun treasures you can find. In today’s article we’ll review some interesting names and words from yesteryear. Please let us know your favorite fun vintage words in the comments…
Barouche (pronounced : bəˈro͞oSH)
This word would have been a natural part of a lady’s companion’s vocabulary and I suspect the great Dunbar family was responsible for making a few of these back in the day. What exactly is this mystery object? A barouche is to the carriage what the Mercedes is to the sedan. Key features that distinguished a barouche from your everyday carriage were its openness, weight and level of finishes. Typically seating four passengers, two horses were required to keep it zooming along the Victorian roads. (All those trimmings made them labor-intensive to pull and I imagine if there were carriage drag races, the barouche would not be the one to choose for zipping off the starting line!) So what exactly was the point of these giants of the road? For starters they were a status symbol. But also (and perhaps more to the point) they were theaters on wheels. These forerunners to the convertible were seen as the must-have Summer accessory. The barouche wasn’t just a means of conveyance, it was a way to impress people. The barouche had to go slow and the passengers faced each other, these features were inherent in its very design. The combination of speed and face time meant that conversation flowed gracefully. Naturally, the townspeople would gawk at the wealth, splendor, fashion, and connections of the wealthy passengers. Conversely, the passengers could pose and preen for passersby. It’s no wonder that this was the carriage of choice for royalty (and presidents alike!). Next time you’re at a parade and see a young gal waving from the back of a convertible, squint your eyes for just for a moment and a barouche may come into view…
I’ve always loved this last name – the first time I heard it I immediately thought starlight and intrigue. Turns out that first impression rang true! Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. was born in the windy city of Chicago in the late 1800s. In fact, he witnessed the great fire of 1871 brought the city to its knees. At the time it would have been incredible to think that in two short decades the metropolis would rise from the ashes to host a World’s Fair. Yet that incredible trajectory is exactly what happened! Witnessing this transformation from tragedy to renaissance made quite the impression on Florenz. When his father opened a night club to capitalize on a recent boost to the local economy, Florenz stepped up to help. The energy of a city reborn had to be contagious and Florenz definitely had the bug! A chance encounter during a European vacation led him to create his namesake spectacular shows and a new era in American entertainment was born. Ziegfeld Follies debuted in 1907 and continued annually for nearly a quarter of a century. The productions were known for their extravagant costumes, beautiful chorus girls, star talent, popular music, and daring choreography. In a world where entertainment is on-demand, it’s hard to quite understand the fervor these live performances created. But what’s easy to understand is the legacy Ziegfeld left to Hollywood and The Great White Way!
The first time I tried on a pair of vintage palazzo pants my heart skipped a beat. Twirling in my dressing room, the top layer of chiffon mimicking the lightness in my heart, I felt like a princess (in Italy of course!). A princess who would be equally at ease gliding on the dance floor or helping out in the barn. Pants that celebrated femininity! Who knew?! Turns out the great Coco Chanel knew (I know… not shocking!) because the wide leg trousers she boldly created in the 1930s became the inspiration for this reboot from the 60s and 70s. Some names you might recognize who were also fans of the palazzo predecessor include the incomparable Katherine Hepburn and Greta Garbo.
Gals aren’t the only ones who get to have fun names in fashion – for every palazzo pant there’s a knickerbocker. I always associated these short trousers with golfing, but turns out there is much more behind this name! The word can trace its roots all the way back to the 16th century, when Dutch settlers ventured into this brave new world that was yet to be known as the United States. Many settlers established themselves in the area that became the great state of New York and as they set about building a life, they also inadvertently set a fashion trend. Their pants, which were gathered just below the knee, were distinctive. I imagine this was done less for fashion and more for function, but the image of a rolled-up pant leg became iconic and associated with the Northeastern coastline. Fast-forward to the 1800s and the term was immortalized by the author Washington Irving, whose early work was penned under the nom de plume Diedrich Knickerbocker. Today this heritage continues on with the New York Knicks. But did you know NYC once had a city mascot called Father Knickerbocker? Wonder how he lost out to a big apple, but that’s another story for another article!
I’m saving the best for last. You didn’t misread this title – it’s googie, not google. Isn’t this a super-fun word to say?! Googie architecture goes hand and glove with the atomic age. This design movement is all about the future – space travel, jet propulsion, and cool cars. Whatever was trending during the 60s was a candidate for the Googie groupies! Its roots, much like palazzo pants, can be traced to the 1930s when Art Deco was ushering in an era of streamlined elegance. Californians embraced this aesthetic and brought it to the masses. Coffee houses, hotels, and gas stations were common venues. Decades later, the group took this discipline and applied it to curves and simple expressions of shapes in motion. Glass, steel, and neon were popular materials in the Googie toolkit, with starbursts and angled roofs as the calling cards. As for where the actual name came from? Rumor has it this was a family nickname for the architect John Lautner, a proponent of the style and former student of Frank Lloyd Wright. (I doubt the esteemed FLW would have ever uttered this nickname in the hallowed halls of his studio at Taliesin!).