Tangram (now 1809 -- or 1712?)

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Mon Sep 10 19:08:42 UTC 2007

At www.mandarintools.com, I found tangram as 七巧板 (qī qiǎo bǎn - qi1
qiao3 ban3) or seven skillful boards.

Google Images gives 4440 hits

None of this, of course, is proof of whether they originated in China or
elsewhere. They may very well have been imported from China and named
with the clever pun on trangram. BB

Joel S. Berson wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> 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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