Category Archives: Separated by a common language

The Pineapple of Perfection – An Historical Quest

Is, of course, a misquotation of that most magnificent word-mangler, Mrs. Malaprop who describes a fellow character in Sheridan’s The Rivals as being ‘the very pineapple of politeness!’


The Pineapple has a unique place in eighteenth century life culture, it was only a fruit but it came to symbolise luxury and hospitality, advanced technology and wild and savage lands, it is hardly surprising that some people held that it would cure the sick, and other that it would kill healthy people!

As European explorers visited more and more tropical lands during the sixteenth century they came across many strange animals and plants, gardeners were fascinated by the tales of the explorers and wanted to grow these newly discovered rarities. As men like John Tradescant explored Florida (guess what he discovered) in Europe architects were designing hothouses and stoves to try and keep these wonders alive, and this was where the Pineapple came in. Of all the tropical fruits discovered it was only the pineapple that could be kept alive using the primitive technology of the times, and not only could it be kept alive but it could fruit!

Charles II receiving a pineapple from John Rose, 1675 (picture from Wikipedia)

At first only Royalty could afford to grow pineapples, Charles II was painted receiving his first pineapple, but soon they became available to the very rich. At first they were known as Anana, a version of the native name, but were then called pineapples, because they looked a little like pineapples, and in due course the original pineapples were renamed pine cones.

Pineapples make a wonderful centrepiece and so they decorated the tables of the wealthy on grand occasions.

Morning Post – 23 June 1808

Indeed some enterprising fruiterers would rent out a pineapple for display, it could serve as a table decoration on several London dinner tables until it became too ripe, when it would be sold to be eaten.

As great houses began to grow pineapples themselves they wanted to celebrate their gardeners abilities, General Tilney in Northanger Abbey with very false modesty claimed that;

‘The pinery had yielded only one hundred in the last year.’

Pineapples began to appear on gate posts, a smug claim that the householder grew them, though in Scotland one landowner took this to extreme.

The Pineapple House at Dunmore (picture from Wikipedia)

As well as growing pineapples, some were imported, they rarely made it, as even a slight delay could lead to the fruit rotting. 

Stamford Mercury 24 August 1721

Though most of the pineapple imports were in the form of candied fruit or Pineapple Rum, which was very popular. If fruits could not be imported directly to Britain, it was different in the American colonies. Here the shorter sailing time from the West Indies meant that they could be readily available, indeed so popular were they that they became a symbol of hospitality, a pineapple on the table was a sign of welcome.

Also imported in great quantity to North America were candied pineapples, they had been diced then boiled in sugar to preserve them. Indeed candied fruits became virtually the sole sweetmeats served there, so much so that another case of language separation took place. In Britain the word ‘sweetmeats’ was shortened to ‘sweets’, whist in America ‘sweetmeats’ were forgotten all these sweet objects were called ‘candy’.

This unusual fruit naturally attracted the interests of doctors, who had violently opposing ideas. Those working in the West Indies, where the fruit grew, soon discovered that it was a very good at treating scurvy, so much so that pineapples were sent on board ships as soon as they arrived, for the benefit of any sick sailors. Perhaps this is the origin of Pineapple Rum, another alcoholic health drink.

Other doctors were less sure about the Pineapple,

The pineapple, the most pleasant of all fruit is the most dangerous. Its sharpness flays the mouth; and ‘tis easy to know what effect such a thing must have upon the stomach and bowels of persons weakened by age. I have known it bring on bloody fluxes, which have been fatal. (John Hill, The Old Man’s Guide to Health. 1750)

And tales were told of one young woman who died on her arrival in India of ‘injudiciously eating a pineapple.’

A fruit so valuable, it would obviously be a target for thieves, though I have only found a few cases of Pineapple theft.

Leeds Intelligencer 02 September 1777

Whilst the one case that came up at the Old Bailey will be another story.


This blog was inspired by Emma Theobald who asked me to write a note on the pineapple in the Georgian era for the Jane Austen Pineapple Appreciation Society.


Filed under Georgian, Regency, Separated by a common language

Separated by a Common Language – Pants!

Of all the words that divide English from the version spoken in North America, none causes more confusion than ‘Pants’. In English they are underwear whilst in America they refer to trousers, so how did this very curious dichotomy come about.

To begin we must go back to the eighteenth century, men wore breeches, short trousers that were buckled or buttoned below the knee underneath drawers were worn, garments similar to the modern boxer shorts. Women wore skirts over chemises or petticoats, and that was all.

Then, at the beginning of the nineteenth century ‘long breeches’ were introduced.

The word trousers did exist in the eighteenth century, in both Britain and North America. They were a protective garment, usually of leather, worn over breeches when travelling in rough country. In the late eighteenth century these were adopted as part of military dress, the British Army, serving in India and the Peninsula, soon started wearing them as the only garment over draws.

Via the army the word entered Britain, and soon became the general term for the garment. The Duke of Wellington was once refused entry to a top London club for wearing trousers rather than breeches.

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Trousers, breeches and ??

The other word used for trousers was pantaloons, originally this was the name of a character in the commedia dell’arte, who wore loose trousers. The word became attached to the garment, and in North America was the word generally used. It was rapidly abbreviated to pants.

Until well into the nineteenth century all children wore dresses until they were about five years old, the loose garment covering the nappies (diapers – another dichotomy to be discussed later). Boys were then ‘breeched’ and girls continued with their dresses, this time with nothing under them. Then at the beginning of the nineteenth century an intermediate step was introduced for girls, long trousers under the dresses, termed pantalettes.

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A girl & her doll wearing pantalettes

About the same time women started to wear drawers under their skirts, the word pantalettes was abbreviated to pants which now meant underwear.


Filed under Separated by a common language

Separated by a common language – A Victorian Theme Park or the death of the Sidewalk

The great George Bernard Shaw is supposed to have said that Britain and the USA are two countries separated by a common language. In a previous post I mentioned, in passing, how the Reticule of the Regency became the handbag of the British and the purse of the Americans. A fellow blogger willowdot21, liked my comments on the origins of the difference, so let’s continue with another curious pairing. The strip of raised ground alongside the road, for people to walk upon in Britain is the pavement and in America the sidewalk, why? – to understand I would advise you to visit a remarkably well preserved Victorian theme park on the Dorset Coast.

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Durlston Castle – A Victorian Tea Room

The town of Swanage, on the Dorset coast was, in the late nineteenth century, a major exporter of stone, and a small holiday resort. A prominent local citizen, George Burt, a quarry owner and stone dealer, purchased a large block of land to the south of the town with a view to development. Houses were built on the land close to the town, however the land closer to the sea was unsuitable for development as it was pitted with old quarries. So he turned it into an educational theme park.

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On entering the park, you walk past the castle, a dramatic looking folly, then as now a tea room, but as you do so you begin to notice something odd. The walls are covered with plaques giving interesting information on the earths place in the universe. Then you reach the Great Globe, a massive stone model of the earth.

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Surrounding this are panels with more information, as well as suitable quotes from poets. There is even one blank panel for the use of graffiti ‘artists’ – and this was placed there in the 1880s!

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Continue your walk and you will find other quotes inserted into walls, as well as a very rich wildlife. Massive bird colonies on the cliffs and when we were there a couple of weeks ago large numbers of Lulworth Skippers, a butterfly only found along a few miles of the Dorset coast. Some years ago the land was bought by the council and run as Durlston County Park.

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If you have got this far you are probably wondering what all this has to do with pavements and sidewalks? Well, as you walk round the park you will see cast iron bollards, many with the names of old London Parishes. How they got there is a curious story.

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George Burt was sending large amounts of Purbeck stone to London, much of which was used making pavements along the main roads. His vessels needed to have ballast on their return voyages, and he loaded the boats with objects from his yard. These included the bollards. And now for the story.

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Up until the nineteenth century both sidewalks and pavements were to be found in Britain. A pavement was, as the name suggests an area paved with stone. The sidewalk had the same surface as the rest of the road, but was separated from the road by posts or bollards. By the end of the century sidewalks had vanished. In the USA they lasted longer and the name stuck.


Filed under Separated by a common language