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tiramisu

Tiramisu and steam irons: Good Housekeeping in the OED

Your first thought, when you think of the magazine Good Housekeeping, might not be that it is a source for lexicographers. Founded in the US on 2 May 1885, it perhaps brings to mind recipes, health tips, and pieces about fashion – all of which is true, although you might not know that it has also featured literary articles from the likes of Virginia Woolf and Evelyn Waugh. But ‘more literary’ doesn’t mean ‘more useful to lexicographers’, of course – often ephemeral and conversational pieces provide early instances of words which might not appear so quickly in more formal contexts.

We’ve had a look through the illustrative quotations in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and discovered that Good Housekeeping (the US edition, the UK counterpart, and various spin-off publications like the Good Housekeeping Encyclopaedia) is quoted over 500 times. Let’s have a quick look at some of the times it appears…

Food, glorious food

It might not come as a surprise to discover that Good Housekeeping is cited in the OED entries for quite a few food-related terms. For instance, bridge roll (a soft, oval, bread roll) in 1926, chaud-froid sauce (a rich sauce used to cover cold meats) in 1951, and tiramisu in 1982. (Incidentally, tiramisu comes from the Italian phrase tira mi su, meaning ‘pick me up’.) The magazine is also quoted in entries for different types of cheese, including Danish blue (1948) and cheese spread (1922).

The recipe pages don’t just offer uses of foodstuffs, though.  There are also other kitchen-related terms illustrated by Good Housekeeping – including deep-freezing and drizzle (in its sense to trickle something over the surface of food). It also provides examples for the abbreviations tsp. (teaspoonful) and tbsp. (tablespoon) – both from 1950.

Household words

Man (and woman) cannot live by bread alone, we are told, and Good Housekeeping in the OED doesn’t limit itself to advice from inside the kitchen. The entries for loop-stitching, steam-iron, and panel heater are all illustrated with examples from inside its pages, as well as the verb showerproof (to make a garment resistant to light rain).

The word his obviously predates Good Housekeeping, but the magazine provides the earliest known evidence so far (1949) for one specific use: his used to denote an article or room intended for males, in contrast to hers (such as his and hers towels).  

And some you might not expect…

You might have anticipated that Good Housekeeping would be useful in illustrating all manner of housekeeping words – the clue is, after all, in the magazine’s name – but that isn’t the end of the story. There are a fair few contributions to the OED which cover different spheres so, to finish off, here’s a run-through of some, in chronological order:

  • small slam (the action of taking every trick but one, in cards) was mentioned in Good Housekeeping in 1887
  • on-off, for a switch, appears in 1931
  • toughie, meaning a difficult problem, is found in a 1945 issue
  • zillionth came in 1972
  • HRT (hormone replacement therapy) was addressed in 1973

So, there you have it. In between (and, indeed, in) the recipes, fashion spreads, and household tips, Good Housekeeping has long been useful to OED editors, and doubtless will long continue to be so.

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