Tangram (now 1809 -- or 1712?)

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Mon Sep 10 18:48:19 UTC 2007

It sounds like a clever marketing term.

Joel S. Berson wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Tangram  (now 1809 -- or 1712?)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Ah ... trangram [Origin obscure: the first two quots. suggest that it
> was a fictitious law-term. Obs. after 1719, but recalled by Scott.
>     In quot. 1712 misquoted by Johnson as trangram, which erroneous
> spelling has been followed by later dictionaries, some of which
> further associate it with tangram (known only from 1864). Cf. trankum.]
>     An odd or intricate contrivance of some kind; a knick-knack, a
> puzzle; a toy, trinket; a gewgaw, trumpery ornament. Applied to
> anything which the speaker views with contempt.
> The 1712 quotation is the one I pointed to in my previous message
> [Arbuthnot had "trangam"].  So -- was a term for "a toy" applied to
> the allegedly Chinese puzzle?  With or without contempt?  Or did the
> Chinese puzzle sense arise separately, from a Chinese-language
> term?  Who among the list's Chinese-reading members wants to delve in
> Harvard's Yenching Library (in the Divinity School building) for
> Harvard's 17xx book, or who in Widener (or Early American Imprints)
> for its 1817 books?
> Joel
> At 9/10/2007 12:28 PM, Douglas Wilson wrote:
>>> 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.]
>> By Google Books I find an earlier printed version of the 1829 item
>> which I presented earlier: it is from 1827 and shows "trangrams" (=
>> "Chinese puzzles").
>> If "tangram" came from an alteration of "trangram", then whence
>> "trangram"? Probably a variant of nearly synonymous "trangam", right?
>> (This last is old: see OED.)
>> Now we're getting somewhere. ("Tangam" is good Latin ....)

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