WHARFINGER AND OTHER OLD-TIME WORDS (May 26/15)

Writing in her Advertiser/Register column about Gordon Gates, Wendy Elliott noted that the late community leader was the wharfinger in Port Williams.

An old-time word, “wharfinger” is rarely used and to see it in print today is unusual.  The word refers to a person who either owns or is the keeper of a wharf.  Elliott’s use of wharfinger is one of the few times I’ve found it in newspapers and historical documents. A word similar in origin and even rarer in usage is wharfager, which roughly translated means someone involved in wharfage, the use of wharfs for delivery of goods.

Many old-time words like wharfinger are no longer in common use.  Take cordwainer, for example.  This is an archaic word for what we call a shoemaker today.   Another is “draying,” a word referring to the use of a type of wagon used on the farm called a dray.  In an entry in his diary in January, 1711, Joshua Hempstead gives an example of how draying might be used:  “I was cutting wood all day and ye boys (were) draying,” Hempstead wrote, indicating they were hauling the wood he was cutting using a dray.

“My little mare slinked her foal,” Hempstead also wrote, offering another word never heard around the farm today.  “Slinked” means to give birth prematurely – I found that in a dictionary of archaic words – but the meaning of another combination of words he used – “making a currying beam” – has eluded me.  I suppose it has something to do with currying (brushing down) a horse but that’s a guess.

In a 150-year-old Nova Scotia directory I found many words, occupational words actually, that are no longer in use or rarely used today.  In the Kings County section, for example, are shipwright, wheelwright, edgetool maker, house joiner (carpenter?) way office keeper (forerunner of the post office) marblecutter, caulker, harnessmaker, currier, cablemaker and joiner.

Now to another puzzling combination of words, a combination describing a product once sold in old-time stores.  Henry Magee (circa 1741 – 1806) sold “flint glasses” in the store he operated in Kentville starting in 1788. We know what each word refers to taken separately but what are flint glasses?  Does anyone know?   And does anyone know what a “commissioner of sewers” did in earlier times and what a “peppercorn lease” refers too?

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