Language fit for a queen
British queens – whether monarchs in their own right or married to a king – have had an impact on English language, as befits royalty. Perhaps most obvious is the use of their names to refer to historical periods (such as the Victorian or Elizabethan eras), but that is far from their only legacy to English…
A diverse range of items and creatures have been named Victoria or victoria after the queen, from a low, four-wheeled carriage with a collapsible hood and a variety of plum (‘characterized by its luscious flavour and rich red colour’, the Oxford English Dictionary [OED] notes) to the (perhaps unflattering) collection of a gigantic species of water-lily, a minor planet, and a variety of domestic pigeon. More solemnly, the Victoria Cross is a medal ‘awarded for conspicuous bravery in the British Commonwealth armed services’, and was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856.
There is a selection of colours given her attribution – Victoria blue, Victoria black, and Victoria green, which are all inks, stains, or pigments – as well as the fabrics Victoria crape, Victoria velvet, and Victoria lawn. (Not the word for an area of mown grass, but a different word meaning a kind of fine linen; the words have distinct origins. The area of grass derives from Old French launde ‘wooded district, heath’, while the fabric probably derives from Laon, the name of a city in France important for linen manufacture.) Another fabric, a kind of woollen dress material, was known simply as victoria.
Perhaps most famous and enduring, though, is the Victoria sandwich or Victoria sponge. A classic of the tea-table, this sponge cake is traditionally filled with jam and dusted with icing sugar – and supposedly Britain’s longest-reigning monarch to date was rather partial to a slice. The term Victoria sandwich is first found (according to current OED research) in the renowned bestselling 1861 book Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, while Victoria sponge has not yet been found during Queen Victoria’s lifetime. An early example comes from a 1934 recipe book which instructs one how to make ‘Victoria sponge with grated pineapple’.
Victoria might not be the only queen to have a sweet treat named after her, though. A lining of cake, biscuits, or breadcrumbs filled with fruit or custard is known as a charlotte and, while the origins of that name are disputed, the charlotte russe is believed to have been named by the French chef Marie-Antoine Carême in celebration of George IV’s child Princess Charlotte and Czar Alexander I (russe being the French for ‘Russian’).
Queen Anne and Queen Elizabeth
Queen Anne was Queen of Great Britain between 1665-1714, and her name had quite an impact on the English language in the period and subsequently. Queen Anne style is particularly common when denoting furniture and architecture characteristic or suggestive of her time, and this is made specific in Queen Anne’s musket (or Queen Anne musket), a ‘long-barrelled, large-bore flintlock musket, of a type associated with the period of Queen Anne’s reign’. Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) does rather better with weaponry; a large cannon formerly defending Dover Castle (and now preserved there) is known as Queen Elizabeth’s pocket-pistol.
As the OED note adds, Queen Anne style and Queen Anne revival (alongside Queen Anne used attributively) often refer, in architecture, to a style ‘chiefly characterized by the contrast between red brick and white painted sash windows, often of an elongated form with segmental heads’, while the furniture ‘is most commonly noted for its simple, proportioned style and for its carbiole legs and walnut veneer’. Among the entries in the OED relating to objects and styles which are characteristic of Queen Anne’s reign (and their advocates) are Queen Anneish, Queen Anneism, Queen Anneite, Queen Annery, and Queen Anneified (the last of which is found in the works of Jerome K. Jerome).
Her beneficence is commemorated in the now-historical terms Queen Anne’s free gift (also known simply as free gift), an annual allowance of money granted to surgeons of the Royal Navy, and Queen Anne’s Bounty, the fund established by Queen Anne in 1704 to augment the livings of the poorer clergy. But it is the mere fact of her dying that provides, perhaps, her most unexpected legacy to the English language, in the form of the phrase Queen Anne is dead (a less common variant is Queen Elizabeth is dead). It is ‘used humorously and ironically as an example of old news, usually with the implication that another person is simply stating the obvious or restating a well-worn or accepted truth’. The earliest known example of the phrase used this way is found in 1798 (when Anne had, indeed, been dead for over eighty years), but an earlier use of the phrase is cited from a 1770 book of witticisms called Yorick’s Jests:
The wise mayor perceiving the words Anno Domini, immediately sent for and abused the painter for committing such a gross blunder as putting Anno Domini; ‘when, says he, don’t you know that Queen Anne is dead, and therefore it should be Georgio Domini.’
Queen Elizabeth I’s other contribution to language is, curiously, a label for the patella or kneecap in a leg of mutton: Queen Elizabeth’s bone. This use is both obsolete and rare, as, presumably, is the need to identify this particular bone.
Other assorted queens
Queen Mary (1867-1953; the wife of King George Vappears as a headword in the OED for two quite different elements: the Queen Mary hat (‘a type of small hat or toque popularized by Queen Mary, who favoured it because it allowed the public a clear view of her face’) and a Queen Mary, being ‘a type of long low-loading road trailer originally used to transport tanks, aircraft, etc., during the Second World War’. This latter use is probably so called with allusion to the Cunard passenger liner queen Mary, on account of its size.
One queen whose name is not currently given its own OED entry is Queen Caroline (1768-1821; the estranged wife of King George IV). The nonce-word Queenomania is, however, included, with reference to her; it is ‘devotion to the cause of Queen Caroline’. As the OED note explains, ‘King George’s various attempts to libel his Queen, to have their marriage dissolved, and to force her to renounce her title and live in exile, aroused strong popular feeling’.