JWG (jwg) wrote,
JWG
jwg

looking for a haberdasher

I'm not sure what made me remember this, but...

Once (about 50 years ago) I was walking down the street in Beacon, NY with my mother doing some shopping. I needed to get a tie for some reason. (It could conceivably be the tie in this icon.) My mother asked a person passing by on the street something like -"do you know where we can find a haberdasher?" He replied with a huh? She said oh, where they sell ties. He opined that perhaps the hardware store down the street had ties, remarking that he'd seen some railroad ties at a lumber yard. She explained that a haberdasher sold clothing, and that Harry Truman had been a haberdasher. He then suggested the surplus store down the street. I don't remember if we were successful.

I think this may be the only context in my life I have used the word haberdasher in a sentence.

Haberdasher: In Britain and Australia, a dealer in dressmaking and sewing goods; in North America, a dealer in men’s clothing.

Excerpted from World Wide Words
One of my American dictionaries, in making clear the ways in which this word is used in different places, uses two words that sound mildly odd in Britain. In the USA, it says, a haberdasher sells men’s furnishings (such as shirts, ties, gloves, socks, and hats); in the UK, he or she sells small wares and notions (such as buttons, needles, ribbons, and thread).
This substantial divergence in sense reflects the muddled history of this odd-looking word, which in origin has nothing whatever to do with anybody dashing anywhere. It may come from an Anglo-Norman French word hapertas, which may have been a type of fabric. But nothing other than these vague suppositions is known about its origin. It went through lots of variant spellings before it settled down to the modern form around the middle of the sixteenth century.
Its meaning down the centuries has been as diverse as its origin is mysterious. When it appeared, in the thirteenth century, it meant a trader in a range of goods. According to early chroniclers, these included: “glasses, daggers, swerdes [swords]”, “mousetrappes, bird cages, shooing hornes, lanthornes, and Jews trumpes [Jew’s harps]”, and “bookes, pictures, beades, crucifixes” — what we would now think of as the stock of an eclectic general store.
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