Tangram (now 1809 -- or 1712?)

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Sep 10 13:01:25 UTC 2007

 From America's Historical Newspapers, and discounting a 1795 false
positive that turns out to be "[pl]unges m[ankind]" -- don't ask ME
why! -- there are, prior to Douglas Wilson's 1819 "_Tan'gram_ An
intricately contrived thing" (and wait for my 1712 punch line):
Curious Orthography---The law respecting patents requires each
inventor to deposit in the patent office, in the department of state,
a model of his machine, if required.  Vast numbers of those "tangrams
and gimcracks" are piled up in the office, of every shape and size,
making it a great _toy shop_.  [American Citizen (NY), June 1, 1809,
page 3, column 3 (?),]

Political Selections.  From the Freeman's Journal.  Madison and
Jefferson ... He [Madison] is a man of more solid judgment and more
real political philosophy than his predecessor, though less versed in
the "tangrams and gimcracks" of the French Academy.  [The Balance,
and New-York State Journal, June 2, 1809, page 1,  rightmost column.]

[Have we uncovered here a fad not only for tangrams but for
employment of the word?  And who is being quoted who first said
"tangrams and gimcracks"?

Just published, and for sale by George E. Blake, at his Musical
Repository, Cook's building, south Third-str.  Number I. of The
Tangram; Or, Fashionable Trifler.  By Christopher Crag, Esq. his
Grandmother and Uncle.  Price 12 1/2 cents.  [The Tickler
(Philadelphia), August 23, 1809, page 3.]

And slightly after "_Tan'gram_ An intricately contrived thing", but
before Stephen Goranson's 1822 "MORE DESIRABLE GOODS":

Elegant Chess-Men, Penknives, Stationary, [sic] &c. Haly & Thomas,
No. 142 Broadway, have just opened an elegant assortment of
stationary and fancy articles, among which are ... Dominos, Dice and
Chinese Trangrams [sic] ... .  [The New-York Evening Post, June 19,
1820, page 3, rightmost column.

Is "trangrams" a misprint?  And who said "tangrams and gimcracks" first?

1712 Arbuthnot John Bull iii. vi, What a Devil! is the meaning of all
these trangrams and gimcracks [surveying instruments]
gentlemen?  [OED2, s.v. "gimcrack"; "trangram" does not occur elsewhere.]

What does "trangram" suggest to our Sino-Latin linguists as to origin?  :-)

And for those who want to do further research, the Harvard library
catalog lists 8 works for the subject heading "tangrams", starting
with _Qi qiao tu jie_ (Chinese), of some unknown date in the 1700's,
and followed by _The New and fashionable Chinese puzzle_, New-York :
A.T. Goodrich & Co., 1817 (Shaw & Shoemaker, 40936; Early American
imprints, Second series; no. 40936).


At 9/10/2007 06:55 AM, Stephen Goranson wrote:
>Quoting "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>:
>> From Google Books:
>>J. Walker, _A Rhyming Dictionary_ (London, 1819): p. 267:
>><<.... / _Ep'i-gram_ A kind of short poem, pointed, s. / _Tan'gram_
>>An intricately contrived thing, s. / _Par-al-lel'o-gram_ A right
>>lined square figure, s. / ....>>
>>This book has a lot of obscure words. They are hard to find by search
>>because they are all syllabified as above.
>>Is the "tan" really from Chinese? One might consider the alternative
>>possibility of "tan-" from Latin "tam" as in "tandem", or from
>>"tandem" itself: perhaps "tangram" was conceived as "one figure after
>>another" or so. If the word was invented arbitrarily, it might be
>>hard to be sure. Or maybe "tan-" is from "tantalizing".
>>-- Doug Wilson
>Here's an 1822 use (19th C US Newspapers):
>Daily National Intelligencer, (Washington, DC) Monday, February 04,
>1822; Issue
>2827; page 1, col B     Multiple Classified Advertisements
>Category: Classified ads
>.... Also, Superior India Ink, a few setts of pearl Loo Counters, tortoise and
>ivory Memorandum Books, Boxes, carved ivory, Netting Needles, Chinese Tangrams
>or Puzzles, large size door Mats at $1.50b each.
>Stephen Goranson
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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