Wordjoy: Postcolonial

Heidy-ho, it’s Saturday so it’s time for Wordjoy. I am working on Draft 2 of my historical novel, which takes place in postcolonial America, Canada, and the northwest territory’s fur trade. There are a lot of words to learn.

Clothing, for example. My narrator begins the story as a clothes horse. She has a gaulle, or a relaxed white dress popularized by Marie Antoinette; a caracao or short laced jacket; a polonaise or longer laced jacket with the back pulled up in puffs; and a redingote, or fashionably overblown riding habit very popular right around 1795.

The hero, on the other hand, is a backwoods homesteader. When he has to dress up he has a waistcoat and greatcoat, but he prefers to wear a hunting frock, which is the stereotypical fringed buckskin Daniel Boone type garment, with a built-in cape to help shed rain. He also wears a Scotch bonnet, familiarly known as a tam, and trousers. Not an unfamiliar word, you say? They were only just coming in at the time–older men still wore breeches and stockings, while the younger ones were moving to full-length breeches called trousers. So there.

Both trousers and breeches, or breeks, came in two basic varieties: fall-front had a fly that buttoned in a vertical line up the front. Drop-front had a panel that buttoned to the waistband on either side.

On to the fur trade. Traders for the North West Company paddled from Montreal to Grand Portage, then out to their posts, some as far flung as modern day Yukon. Every night the wooden canoes had to be inspected, and weak spots patched with pitch, which is what’s left when you boil the turpentine off of pine resin, and watape, or dry pine fibers. The journey from Montreal to Grand Portage was fueled by salt pork and peas, giving the name mangeur du lard, or pork-eater, to the men who paddled only that leg of the journey, then returned to Montreal. The men who paddled all the way to the isolated forts were called engagés. Once at the forts, they acted as gophers for the Scottish clerks, who were trading with the local natives. Both kinds of canoe paddlers together were known as voyageurs. The clerks, who were the ones making real money, were aptly called the bourgeois.

That second leg, from Grand Portage to wherever, was fueled by wild rice and pemmican. Pemmican is the original North American energy bar: dried meat, usually bison, pounded with rendered fat and dried berries. I managed to buy some pemmican earlier this spring and blogged about it. It isn’t particularly tasty, but needs must …

The voyageurs had their characteristic clothing, just like everybody else. They wore buff leather breeches called carraboo breeches, a sash tied around their waists, brightly colored blouses, and a slouchy felted cap called a toque. Once out in the wilderness, many converted a trade blanket into a wrap-front overcoat called a capot.

The forts at the time my story takes place were trading with the Ojibwe and the Cree. The Cree weren’t called Cree then, though, they were called Kristineaux.

And on that note, I’ll stop for now. I’ve learned a few key Cree words, and I might make those into another post.

See you next week!


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