odd use of "cabaret"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue May 14 14:20:39 UTC 2013

The editor of the Williamsburgh Gazette happened to be in New York City
(aka Manhattan) when a murder-suicide was discovered, and so was an
eye-witness to its immediate aftermath.

***  On ascending to the second floor of one of those low boarding houses,
or *cabarets*, which abound in New York, a most heart-rending scene
presented itself to our view.  ***

Williamsburgh Gazette & Long-Island Advertiser, February 6, 1839, p. 2,
col. 3

In addition to the familiar and inapplicable meanings of cabaret, the OED

†*1.* A wooden dwelling, a booth, shed; = Latin *taberna*.  [Here perhaps
used on account of the connection of *taberna* and *tavern*: but perhaps an
error of some kind for *cabanet*.] *Obs.   *1632   T. Hawkins tr. P.
Matthieu *Vnhappy Prosperitie* 261   The greatest houses were heretofore
but Cabarets, the Capitoll was at first covered with thatch.

No doubt this part of the entry on "cabaret" hasn't been fiddled with for
more than a century, but still, it's odd that the sense should be
documented only once, and that 200 years before the newspaper report.  Also
the "low boarding house" was a "wooden dwelling", but since it was two
stories high, it was a good deal more substantial than what the 1632
passage seems to have in mind.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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