Discuss word origins and meanings.
Post Reply


Post by Spearmint » Thu Mar 30, 2006 4:52 pm

I was talking to an elderly lady the other day, and she was telling me about the old days and life on the farm, etc. She was explaining how the farmer had to be a jack of all trades, and was explaining the different jobs he had to know. She said "And you had to be your own smithy." I asked her about that word, and she said that is what her dad called it, and probably his dad before him. I know it's a term for blacksmith, but I'm guessing it's old English. Is it still a common term?

I'm afraid I might have put this topic in the wrong forum. Sorry.


Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Mar 30, 2006 6:48 pm

'Smithy' refers not to the occupation, but to the place where it is practised. In this context it is synonymous with 'forge'. The old lady you mentioned was using the term loosely; what she meant was "You had to have your own blacksmith's workshop".

If by 'old English' you mean obsolete rather than Anglo-Saxon, the answer is no: the word 'smithy' is still current.
Signature: -- Looking up a word? Try OneLook's metadictionary (--> definitions) and reverse dictionary (--> terms based on your definitions)8-- Contribute favourite diary entries, quotations and more here8 -- Find new postings easily with Active Topics8-- Want to research a word? Get essential tips from experienced researcher Ken Greenwald


Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Mar 30, 2006 10:07 pm

Erik and Spear, I always thought that the SMITHY was both the person and the shop and many dictionaries do list both definitions (Oxford English Dictionary, Random House Unabridged, Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged) - but the shop was the original meaning. The misunderstanding which led to the word also meaning the person is said to have arisen in the U.S. as a result of a misinterpretation of a line of poetry!

SMITHY has meant the workshop or forge of a blacksmith since the 13th century. However, it is said that in the 19th century the meaning of the blacksmith himself took root in the U.S. through a misreading of Longfellow's famous line in his 1839 poem titled The Village Blacksmith which appeared in his ‘Ballads and Poems’ (1848):

“Under a spreading chestnut-tree / The village SMITHY stands; / The SMITH, a mighty man is he, / With large and sinewy hands; / And the muscles of his brawny arms / Are strong as iron bands.”

The SMITHY in the second line referred to the blacksmith shop and not a blacksmith, whereas the SMITH in the third line did refer to the blacksmith. But the first two lines are the ones that many remember and misinterpret. And so we have the propagation of a new meaning of a word through a misunderstanding, which actually isn’t all that rare an occurrence.
<1847 “Was he some SMITHY, grim and old, Whose anvil iron changed to gold.”—‘Graham’s Magazine,’ April, page 262/1>

<1900 “The SMITHY and his mate opened their ‘establishment’ within a few hours of their arrival, and did a ‘roaring trade.’”—'Everybody's Magazine,' January, page 36/2>

<1931 "Trade Vanishes, Aged SMITHY Dies: Police battered down the door of his home. They found the aged SMITHY dead, a suicide."—'Associated Press,' Chicago>

<1937 "Under a Weeping Willow Tree, the SMITHY Weeps."—'New York Times,' Dennisville N.J.>

<1939 "Long before Longfellow penned his verses about the village SMITHY, rural Englishmen were singing a hippety-hopping tune to the words: Underneath the spreading chestnut tree / I loved her and she loved me./ There she used to sit upon my knee / 'Neath the spreading chestnut tree."— 'Time Magazine,'29, October>

<1940 “Miami SMITHY: Olin M. Berry doesn't stand under a spreading chestnut tree, as did Longfellow's village blacksmith, but he is an old hand at the rapidly disappearing trade of horse-shoeing.”—'Miami Herald,''in 'American Speech' (1841, Vol. 16, page 152/2>

<1982 “The main concern of a SMITHY is to make sure that his shoeing keeps a horse healthy.”—‘New York Times,’ 21 November, WC12, page 12>
(Oxford English Dictionary)

Ken – March 30, 2006

Post Reply