bran-new
Posted: 19 January 2010 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]
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In Jonathan Raban’s novel Waxwings it is stated that bran-new comes from bran being used as packaging in Victorian times - the equivalent of bubblewrap or styrofoam peanuts. I had always thought it was brand-new, in fact I had never come across bran-new before, and googling found this by Ben Zimmer: link. Looks like Raban hadn’t researched it if Zimmer is right and he seems to know his onions.
Is bran-new known in the UK nowadays and how widespread is it in the States (or Canada, where the question Zimmer addresses comes from)?

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Posted: 19 January 2010 10:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Zimmer is of course correct; bran-new is a variant of the earlier brand-new.  You should not believe everything you read in novels.  (It’s hard to know how widespread the shorter form is, because it tends not to occur in edited prose and in speech the two are hard to distinguish, but I’d guess it’s fairly common.)

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Posted: 19 January 2010 11:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Actually, a character of mine in Waxwings does assert that “bran-new” derives from the old practice of packing things in bran. I’m an agnostic on the issue. But if you Google the phrase “packed in bran” there’s plenty of evidence that delicate objects, like china and eggs, were and are shipped with bran to protect them. Dickens’s repeated use of “bran-new” at the beginning of the second chapter of Our Mutual Friend seems to use the phrase in this way. There’s also the “bran tub”, in which wrapped presents were contained. My feeling is that both “brand-new” and “bran-new” have separate and complementary meanings--fresh from the fire, and fresh from the packaging material. Shakespeare prefers one, Dickens the other. The blogger who says that there is “no scintilla of evidence” to back the case for “bran-new” seems to me to be indulging in unearned dogmatism.

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Posted: 20 January 2010 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The “blogger” you dismiss so cheerfully is an actual linguist and lexicographer, whose opinion on the matter carries more weight than all of ours put together.

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Posted: 20 January 2010 06:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Well, hi, Jonathan (if it truly be you) and welcome to the board. I’d forgotten “bran tub” which in my youth at fairs in the UK were full of wood shavings though clearly bran husks were used earlier, hence the name, so this could have legs.

“Mr and Mrs Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick and span new. All their furniture was new, all their friends were new, all their servants were new, their plate was new, their carriage was new, their harness was new, their horses were new, their pictures were new, they themselves were new, they were as newly married as was lawfully compatible with their having a bran-new baby, and if they had set up a great-grandfather, he would have come home in matting from the Pantechnicon, without a scratch upon him, French polished to the crown of his head.”

You quote part of this in your novel (which I thought excellent and I am not being Uriah Heepish here. I’m surprised no one has lifted the website-Beth-worked-for idea only without the wised-up descriptions, heh heh).

LH, it was clearly presented in the novel as a learned aside, not a fiction, and google confirmed the conjecture hence my post. I once told someone Tiger Beer was a southeast Asian brew from reading Anthony Burgess’s Time for a Tiger and was reprimanded for automatically taking fiction as fact. Admittedly, they could have been right but when I eventually went there it turned out it was a Singaporean beer. Now you can determine this sort of stuff immediately using the internet. This not to say novelists get things wrong or make stuff up. Len Deighton said in one novel JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” was derided because a Berliner is also some sort of pastry. I read a German-speaker denying this and saying it was entirely taken in the spirit in which it was meant.

Mr Raban, in an earlier post I, er, posted:

“Regarding anglicised surnames, I am reading a novel called Waxwings by Jonathan Raban in which a major Brit character called Tom Janeway says his surname comes from Hungarian Szany but the SurnameDB I linked to in my original post has no mention of this. It is a novel, though. http://www.surnamedb.com/surname.aspx?name=janeway Is this site a reliable source?”

It could well be anglicisation to a proximate and already existing English surname unless you made it up which is absolutely your right as a novelist. Fuck us around all you want!

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Posted: 20 January 2010 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I don’t know when the practice of packaging articles to be shipped in bran, but the the spelling bran-new is recorded as early as 1664 (brand-new is from c. 1570), so the word predates the Victorian era by some centuries.

Now, it is reasonable to assume that some Victorians reinterpreted bran-new to mean having been packed in bran, fresh out of the package, as the character in Mr. Raban’s novel has, but, barring the practice of packing in bran dating to the 17th century, it is certainly not the origin or even a complementary coinage. The simpler and far more likely explanation is the usual dropping of the /d/ between the /n/’s in speech with the spelling altered to conform to the sound.

In the case of Dickens, he appears to be using the bran-new spelling as dialect, emphasizing the nouveau-riche nature of the Veneerings and how they don’t quite talk like others in their economic class.

[ Edited: 20 January 2010 07:44 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 20 January 2010 07:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Jonathan Raban - 19 January 2010 11:25 AM

The blogger who says that there is “no scintilla of evidence” to back the case for “bran-new” seems to me to be indulging in unearned dogmatism.

From Mr Zimmer’s own website: “Ben Zimmer … was editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary.”

So I’d say he’d earned his right to be dogmatic. Did you actually read his piece, Jonathan?

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Posted: 20 January 2010 08:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Hungarian Szany

In Hungarian, sz is pronounced as /s/. How did /saɲ/ become /ʤeɪnweɪ/?

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Posted: 20 January 2010 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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And it’s not Zimmer alone; the OED2 itself treats bran-new simply as a variant of brand-new, and does not give it a separate etymology.

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Posted: 26 January 2010 08:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Looks like y’all scared him off with your etymological erudition. Waxwings is very entertaining, however, what with a completely self-absorbed literary Briton ensconced in Seattle as a visiting creative writing perfesser. Excellent SOH also.
I wonder how he was alerted to word origins. Surely, no one googles his own name.

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Posted: 26 January 2010 08:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Surely, no one googles his own name.

I assume that’s tongue-in-cheek.  However, there’s another possibility.  Occasionally friends and acquaintances have notified me when my (real) name came up in internet forums that I never read.  It’s possible that somebody reading this board knows Raban and let him know that we were talking about him.

Another thought: there are, or used to be, businesses called “clipping services” that would scan the press for articles about their clients and send them copies.  Publishers sometimes subscribed to these in reference to books or authors that they published, and some authors would do likewise out of their own pockets if the publisher didn’t.  I would expect that such things have persisted into the internet age and expanded their coverage to the web.

[ Edited: 26 January 2010 08:51 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 26 January 2010 09:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Google also has a service (Google Alerts) that emails you when a website mentions your name (or any other search term). I use it to notify me of mentions of “wordorigins.org” and “Word Myths.”

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