Monday, February 24, 2020

The More Things Change, The More They Remain the Same

My favorite time period to write about is between 1880 and 1890. In many ways, our ancestors struggled with some of the same issues we currently face and that’s what makes the time period so fascinating to me.
They're not talking to each other.  The wireless has their full attention.
For example, technology in the way of telephones and electricity changed the way people lived in the 19th century, just as new technology does today.  The Victorians even had their own Internet.  It was called the telegraph, and this opened-up a whole new world to them.
What, for that matter, is a text message but a telegram, the high cost of which forced people in the past to be brief and to the point?
In the past, our ancestors worried about losing jobs to machinery.  Today, there’s a real possibility that robots will make us obsolete.
Sears and Roebuck was the Amazon of the Gilded Age. The catalogue
featured a wide selection of products at clearly marked prices. No more haggling.  Customers were drawn to the easy-to-read, warm, friendly language used to describe goods, and the catalogue proved an instant success. Our ancestors could even order a house through the catalog and that’s something we can’t do on Amazon.
The Victorians worried about books like we worry about iPhones. We worry about screen time damaging the eyes.  Victorians were certain that the mass rise of books would make everyone blind. 
Then as now, women fought for equal rights.  Our early sisters fought for property ownership, employment opportunities and the right to vote. Women have come a long way since those early days, but challenges still exist, especially in matters of economics and power.
Not much has changed in the Dating Game
Almost every single I know subscribes to at least one dating site.  These are very similar to the Mail-Order Bride catalogs of yesteryear.
Did our Victorian ancestors worry about climate change?  You bet they did! The Florida Agriculturist published an article addressing the problem in 1890. The article stated: “Most all the states of the union in succession of their settlement have experienced a falling off in their average temperatures of several degrees.  A change from an evenly tempered climate has resulted in long droughts, sudden floods, heavy frost and suffocating heat.”
Nothing much has changed in the world of politics. Today, the Republicans and Democrats are still battling it out, just as they did in the nineteenth century. We still haven’t elected a female president, though Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood tried to change that when she ran in 1884 and, again, in 1888.
What about Environmental concerns? 
Today we’re concerned that plastic bags and straws are harming our oceans.  Our Victorian ancestors worried about tomato cans. That’s because a German scientist told the New York Times in 1881 that the careless deposit of tin cans was “bringing the earth closer to the sun and hastening the day of the final and fatal collision.”
During the 1800s, horses were taken to task for messing up the streets.  (Oddly, enough, it was once thought that automobiles were good for the environment.)  Today, cattle are under fire for the methane in their you-know-whats. 

We have Coronavirus, but that’s nothing compared to what our ancestors battled.  The 1894 Hong Kong plague was a major outbreak and became the third pandemic in the world. The rapid outbreak and spread of the plague was caused by infected fleas. Repressive government actions to control the plague led the Pune nationalists to criticize the Chinese. Sound familiar?  The plague killed more than 10 million people in India, alone. 
As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Reading how people in the past survived and, yes, even prospered during tough times inspires me and gives me hope for the future.  I hope it does the same to my readers. 

Attorney Ben Heywood didn’t expect to get shot on his wedding day--and certainly not by his mail order bride.
                                             —Pistol-Packin’ Bride/Mail Order Standoff 

Sunday, February 23, 2020


By Mary Davis

Did you know there was a 27th letter of the alphabet? It was still in use as recently as the 19th century.

The American alphabet hasn’t always been the 26 letters we know today. It has morphed and changed over the centuries.

So what was unfortunate letter number 27?


That stylize squiggly thing that means “and.”

“Hold on, Mary. Isn’t that a symbol?”

Not originally. It was a letter. But aren’t all letters really just symbols; something that represents something else?

So let’s go back to the “ampersand.” The end of the alphabet song would have gone like this . . . w, x, y, z, and per se and. This last bit after the “z” slurred together to become ampersand. The “ampersand” fell out of use and off the end of the alphabet. I have always liked it. I guess I didn’t realize most people didn’t use it. New life has been breathed into this wonderful little character with things like Twitter which limit the number of characters one can use. One character instead of three.

So what other beloved—or not so beloved—letters have we lost over time?

Let’s start with the “long s” which isn’t the same as a long vowel. It looks like this, sort of a funky "f":

Person or Persons Unknown [CC BY-SA

One might think is was in place of the lowercase “s”. Nope, we had that too. It was called the “short s”

The “long s” is a complicated fellow. It was used when a word had one “s”, but it was also used when a word had two s’s together. It came first followed by the “short s.” But only if that “s” is at the beginning or the middle of the word.


No wonder it fell out of use, and it was mostly stylistic anyway and faded away around the beginning of the 19th century.

Moving on . . .

“Thorn” is a much easier letter to understand, which looks a lot like the letter “P.”

Eirik1231 [Public domain]

“Thorn” represented “th.”

You know those signs that say Ye Olde <something> Shoppe?

It’s actually not “Ye” at all but “Thee.” German and Italian printers didn’t have the “Thorn” character, so they substituted the closest thing they could find—Y. Even I can see that a “Y” doesn’t much resemble the P-looking “Thorn.” But in an older script it does.

Public Domain

I see the resemblance now.

An off-shoot of “Thorn” is “That.” Yep, we had a letter “That.” Apparently “that” was written so often it needed its own letter. That letter was “Thorn” with an extra line near the top.

Person or Persons Unknown / CC BY-SA

So this was actually “tht” for that. Hmm…

“That” caught on fairly quickly and outlived its parent “Thorn.”

Next up—“Ash”.

You might have seen this little guy. It’s an “a” and “e” smushed together.

You might have seen it in words like æther and æon

If you hold down your “a” key, a box will pop up and give you the “Ash” letter as an alternative for “a”. It’s supposed to be the sound somewhere between “a” and “e”. Whatever that is. No surprise that it fell out of use.

And moving on to “Ethel.” No, not your Aunt Ethel. Like “Ash” it is two letters smushed together. This time “o” and “e” and has to do with pronunciation.

It was used in words like subpœna or fœtus.

You can also press the “o” key and get the box with “Ethel” as a choice. “Ash” and “Ethel” are still in use in some dialects.

The letter “Yogh” is next up on our list of extinct letters.

Person or Persons Unknown [CC BY-SA

“Mary, why are you showing us a three?”

It’s not. It’s “Yogh.”

Poor little guy didn’t stand a chance with the numeral 3 hanging around. “Is that a three or a ‘Yogh’?” I think it was doomed from the start.

It’s the “ch” sound you hear in Bach or Scottish loch. “Yogh” got replaced with “gh” and, apparently feeling guilty over ousting “Yogh”, it became silent in most words like though and daughter.

Next is “Wynn.”

Szomjasrágó at Hungarian Wikipedia [CC0]

“Wynn” was a much needed letter (unlike some of the others) but it confused people. Latin didn’t use the “W” sound so didn’t have need for a letter to represent it. Many shoved two “u’s” together. It was cumbersome and time consuming to write, so the letter “Wynn” was created. It didn’t really take off and fell out of use before it gained any popularity. And as you can guess the “uu” became “w”, and where our modern letter gets its name from.

Last but not least, “Eng.”

Person or Persons Unknown / CC BY-SA

In 1619, Alexander Gill the Elder created this letter to take the place of “ng”. This was a great theory. But alas, people chose not to use it, and it, too, fell out of use before it even became popular.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of extinct letters, but it’s enough.

I love learning stuff like this. 

What letter do you wish would make a comeback? Any favorites?

THIMBLES AND THREADS: 4 Love Stories Are Quilted Into Broken Lives
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“Bygones” Texas, 1884
Drawn to the new orphan boy in town, Tilly Rockford soon became the unfortunate victim of a lot of Orion Dunbar’s mischievous deeds in school. Can Tilly figure out how to truly forgive the one who made her childhood unbearable? Can this deviant orphan-train boy turned man make up for the misdeeds of his youth and win Tilly’s heart before another man steals her away?

MARY DAVIS is a bestselling, award-winning novelist of over three dozen titles in both historical and contemporary themes. Her recent titles include; "Holly and Ivy" in A Bouquet of Brides CollectionThe PRODIGAL DAUGHTERS SeriesThe Widow’s Plight, “Zola’s Cross-Country Adventure” in The MISSAdventure Brides CollectionThe Daughter's Predicament, and "Bygones" in Thimbles and Threads. Shes an ACFW member and critique groups. Mary lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband of thirty-four years and two cats. She has three adult children and two adorable grandchildren. Find her online: