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Chris -- 2015-05-30

#1 2011-03-16 01:27:53

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2521

buttery and dresser

I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s new book, At Home. His discussions of everyday life are based on the rooms of his house, an English rectory. Among the many household terms in the book are two that may conceal hidden eggcorns.

The word “buttery” as the generic name for a place where food is stored is a seventeenth century adaptation of an older term for a place where liquids, usually of the spiritous sort, were kept. It comes from the French bouteillerie which is broadly related to our words “butt” (a cask) and “bottle.” The expansion of the term’s meaning to embrace a variety of less essential food groups may have been catalyzed by the unrelated “butter.”

Our AmEng term “dresser,” a piece of bedroom furniture with drawers for storing bedroomish items, looks like it has something to do with the bedroom activity of getting dressed. The term is in fact a late (nineteenth century) theft of a word that originally referred to a kitchen sideboard where food was dressed. Petruchio, in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew (Act IV, Scene 1), complains in his false fit that “’Tis burnt; and so is all the meat. / What dogs are these? Where is the rascal cook? / How durst you villains bring it from the dresser / And serve it thus to me that love it not?” This humble food dresser, which began as a simple board, acquired extra shelves and drawers through the centuries, making the term “dresser” ripe for transference to any piece of furniture with storage drawers below and a space above for conducting household business – thus the bedroom dresser.

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



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