Often, old journal or diary entries don't make much sense to us. The idioms that were so common when they were written are now lost in time. I've found that to be true today as well.
Not long ago at work one of my young co-workers came into the office in 'thongs'. Surprised that she was wearing them when it was so cold outside, I asked, "why do you have thongs on today". Imagine my surprise when voices went silent, keyboards stopped clacking and heads turned.
"Thongs?" "I don't have a thong on" she said with a disconcerted glare at me. Bewildered, I looked at her feet and brilliantly said, "well, what do you call them?" More heads turned our direction, the silence was deeper than ever. Who knew that they called "thongs" "flip flops" now?
Apparently, intent on digging myself in even deeper, I exclaimed, "Well, I used to wear them when I was younger".
From this now entertaining exchange, I observed that my native language has changed in my life time. Why they call underwear "thongs" is still beyond me, but then, why did they call flip-flops "thongs' when I was a kid? A name is just a reference point that people agree on.
Before my wife and I were married, we visited her great grandmother. She kindly gave us an old book by the title of "Austin's Indispensable Handbook and General Educator". It was apparently written sometime in the 1870's. I often open it to see if I can find the meaning of some term used by folks in that day so I can understand the words in old letters and diaries.
Page 383 of the book has always been my favorite. It contains a recipes for homemade colognes and toiletries with titles ranging from Pond Lily Extract to Esterhazy Bouquet to New Mown Hay Extract.
I grew up loving the smell of "new mown hay". Did my ancestors like it enough to make a cologne that smelled like it too? Hey!, they had very discerning taste! It sounds much better than some of the flowery scents they try to push on men today.
Do you want to impress your spouse and the folks at work with this agrarian scent too? Here are the two recipes from page 383.
NEW MOWN HAY EXTRACT -- Take of Tonka tincture, 2 ounces; tincture of musk, tincture of benzoin, extract of moss-rose and deodorized alcohol, each, 4 drachms; ottos of rose geranium and bergamot, each, 20 drops.
NEW MOWN HAY EXTRACT, ANOTHER -- Take of extract of Tonka, 6 1/2 ounces; extract of orris, 2 ounces; extract of musk, 1 1/2 ounces; extract of vanilla and styrax, each, 2 drachms; ottos of bergamot and sandal, each, 15 drops; otto of neroli, 4 drops; ottos of rose, English lavender and patchouly, each, 2 1/2 drops; otto of clove, 1 1/2 drops; benzoic acid, 23 grains; deodorized alcohol, enough to make one pint.
Apparently, the names of some weights and measures have changed since then.
Now do you understand why you have to get into the 'heads' of your ancestors when you are researching their lives? It's all about reference points and the idioms of the day. If you take the time to understand them, your quest will be much easier.
Oh, by the way, if you decide to make a batch of Essence of New Mown Hay, let me know how turns out.