Jewish World Review May 29, 2002 / 27 Iyar, 5763
Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
With kid gloves; "receipt'' = "recipe''?; from soup to nuts
Recently on the news I heard a commentator say that a senator was handling an issue "with kid gloves.'' Every time I hear this expression, it makes me think of something a child wears in winter. Where does it come from?
H.W., Saginaw, Mich.
Handling an issue with kid gloves may make you think of an accessory for a child's snowsuit, but that's not the actual meaning of the term. A kid glove in this case is not a glove for children, but actually a particular kind of dress glove made from "kid'' leather - that is, leather from the skin of a young goat or lamb.
While not often seen today, kid gloves have in the past been a staple of fashionable formal attire, worn by, among others, the White Rabbit in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.'' It's the thinness of the gloves, however, rather than their formality, that makes them suitable for handling delicate and valuable objects, and it was presumably their use for this purpose that led the term to acquire its now familiar extended sense. To handle something (such as a controversial issue) "with kid gloves,'' of course, means to handle it with special consideration or in a careful, tactful, or sensitive manner.
Today, "kid-glove'' can also serve as an adjective meaning "marked by extreme care or deference,'' as in referring to a nation's kid-glove approach to diplomacy.
My best friend insists that "receipt'' means the same thing as "recipe'' and isn't just an error. She found a quote from Shakespeare using "receipt''; is she right?
T.M., New Haven, Conn.
As silly as using "receipt'' to mean "recipe'' may sound to our modern ears, your friend is absolutely correct. In fact, there was a time when the only possible definition of "receipt'' was "a set of instructions for making something from particular ingredients.''
English speakers used "receipt'' with that meaning from the 14th century (the first recorded use of "receipt'' is a reference to a medicinal preparation from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, ca. 1386) until the 17th century, when it began to turn up in its now more familiar sense of "a written statement saying that money or goods have been received.'' (It also developed the senses of "receptacle'' and "revenue office'' before the 17th century, but these are now very rare.)
Interestingly, "receipt'' predates "recipe,'' which first turned up in print in the 1500s, and which was also initially used to describe a formula for the preparation of medicine. Both words began to be applied to cooking instructions in the 18th century, after which "recipe'' slowly became the preferred word, and "receipt'' began to appear primarily in the context of "receiving something.'' However, "receipt'' can still be substituted for "recipe,'' and it has been featured in the works of such important writers as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Louisa May Alcott (and Shakespeare, of course).
My boss always says "from soup to nuts'' to talk about doing something completely. Where did this phrase come from?
L.K., Sunderland, Mass.
"From soup to nuts'' is a phrase we've picked up from the heyday of the formal dinner party. As any well-studied dinner-party animal of one hundred years ago would have told you, the first course served at table at an extremely formal dinner is soup, and the last is salted nuts. Emily Post, in her book "Etiquette'' (1922), objected that: "Under no circumstances would a private dinner, no matter how formal, consist of more than: 1. Hors d'oeuvre 2. Soup 3. Fish 4. Entree 5. Roast 6. Salad 7. Dessert 8. Coffee'' but later conceded that extra entrees, various sweets, and little dishes of salted nuts were standard on the well-dressed table of yesteryear.
"From soup to nuts'' was first used around the turn of the 20th century, and it is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary as an American colloquialism. Though it may seem outmoded and antiquated, it is still used often today.
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