Sad & Box Iron Etymology

I shared a new adventure with you in my last post as I learned how to make use of my late 19th century fluting iron.

I’ve received lots of interest in this experiment from family, friends, blog readers, and Instagram followers. Yay! Thanks! It’s been great fun to connect with you. I’ve heard about people’s memories as well as stories of lurking, unused, antique irons that people are feeling motivated to try out. I’ve also received enthusiastic feedback about the etymology of various antique iron terms.

On that note, a friend-who-shall-not-be-named who was most intrigued about iron etymology shared a variety of sources with me with clear images and descriptions of different types of irons as well as pointing me towards the Oxford English Dictionary for the meaning of the term ‘sad iron’ (the OED is source which I greatly enjoy but hadn’t thought to make use of during my experiment as I was more focused on how to use a fluting iron in that moment). I thought that some of the information contained in the OED might interest some of you, as well, so here is a rather long, word-heavy post looking at the meaning and history of words… I hope you enjoy!

To start, let’s look at the word ‘sad’ followed by the term ‘sad iron’.

‘Sad’

‘Sad’ in the OED has an extensive list of definitions, many of which are noted as being obsolete and no longer in use.

sadadj.n., and adv.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary, with quotations, phrases, and compounds omitted

A. adj.
I. Of persons and immaterial things: satisfied, full; steady, serious.
1. Having had one’s fill; satisfied, sated; weary or tired (of something). Chiefly with of or infinitive. Obsolete.
†2. 
a. Settled, firmly established in purpose or condition; steadfast, firm, constant. Obsolete.
b. Strong, firm, standing fast, esp. in battle; capable of resisting; valiant. Obsolete.
3.
a. Of looks, appearance: dignified, grave, serious. Obsolete.
b. Of a person: orderly and regular in life; of trustworthy character and judgement; grave, serious. Also, in extended use, of a person’s behaviour or age, of a period of time, etc. Often coupled with wise or discreet. In later use archaic or regional (chiefly Scottish and Caribbean).
c. Of thought, consideration, etc.: mature, serious, grave, considered. Obsolete.
d. Profoundly or solidly learned (in something). Obsolete.
4. Unmistakable, certain; true, genuine. Obsolete.

II.Feeling sorrow or regret, and related uses. (Now the principal use.)
5.
a. Of a person, or his or her feelings, disposition, etc.: feeling sorrow; sorrowful, mournful, heavy-hearted.
b. Expressing or showing sorrow; (esp. of a look, tone, gesture, or feature) mournful.
c. Causing or evoking sorrow; calamitous, distressing.
d. Of a period, place, action, etc.: characterized by sorrow, full of sorrow; (in early use esp.) hard, sore, bitter.
6. Used as a general expression of censure, depreciation, or regret. Originally: exceptionally bad, deplorable, shameful. Later (also): unfortunate, regrettable, sorry, miserable.
7. slang (depreciative). Esp. of a person: pathetically inadequate or unfashionable; socially undesirable or inept.

III. In various physical senses, principally developed from branch A. I.
8. Of material objects.
a. Firmly fixed or established, stable. Obsolete.
b. Solid; dense, compact; massive, heavy. Also figurative. Now rare (regional in later use).
c. Solid as opposed to liquid. Also figurativeObsolete.
d. Of soil: stiff, heavy; difficult to work.
e. Of a number of persons or things: forming a compact body. Obsolete.
f. Of pastry, dough, etc.: that has failed to rise, heavy. Now chiefly regional.
9.
a. Of a blow: heavy, delivered with vigour. Obsolete.
b. Of a fire: violent. Obsolete.
c. Of rain: heavy. Obsolete.
10.
a. Of colour: dark, deep. In later use esp.: not cheerful-looking; neutral, dull, sombre.
b. Esp. of clothing or fabric: of such a shade; dark-coloured; sombre. Now rare (archaic and poetic in later use).
11. Of sleep: sound, deep. Obsolete.

B. n.
1. Satiety, weariness. Obsolete.
2. Now chiefly with the. Sad or sorrowful people as a class. Also: something sad or suggesting sadness (rare).

C. adv. In a sad manner (in various senses of the adjective). Chiefly recorded in poetical and literary contexts.
1.
a. Firmly, strongly, fixedly; soundly. Obsolete.
b. Heavily, with force. Obsolete.
c. Steadfastly. Obsolete.
2. Seriously, solemnly; soberly, discreetly, wisely. Obsolete.
3. Thoroughly, truly, certainly. Obsolete.
4. Sadly, sorrowfully, mournfully. Now rare (poetic in later use).

That’s a lot of meanings for the word ‘sad’! Even a quick scroll and skim makes it clear how many of these definitions are obsolete. Fascinating!

‘Sad Iron’

To think about how the definition of ‘sad’ influences the definition of ‘sad iron’, I would like to draw your attention back to III. 8. b. from the OED definition of ‘sad’. (Here it is again so you don’t have to scroll back up.)

sadadj.n.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

III. In various physical senses, principally developed from branch A. I.
8. Of material objects.
b. Solid; dense, compact; massive, heavy. Also figurative. Now rare (regional in later use).
[In the OED, this definition is followed by this note:]
In early use frequently ‘solid, as opposed to hollow’; cf. sad iron n.sadware n. at Compounds 2.

Ah ha! This is the most relevant part of the definition of ‘sad’ for this discussion. While III. 8. b. does list heavy as one of the meanings of the word ‘sad’, the following note clarifies that in terms of ‘sad iron’ the meaning is focused on the way the object is made: ‘solid, as opposed to hollow’. What does that mean? Let’s allow the OED explain it to us.

sad ironn.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

Now historical.
A solid flat iron for smoothing clothes, in contradistinction to a hollow box iron.

As with every definition, the OED has provided a list of relevant quotes using the word over hundreds of years. I omitted those for the word ‘sad’ as there were just too many and it was less directly relevant, but for ‘sad iron’ I’ve included the quotations provided by the OED below. Again, I find it fascinating to see where the quotes were published, what years they are from, and how the term is used.

1759   Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury 9 Oct. 4/3   Imported from London & Bristol, And to be sold by Samuel Goldthwait..Sad Irons, Box Ditto, Brass and Iron Candlesticks.
1787   Maryland Gaz. 1 June 1/2   Hardware of all kinds… Sad-Irons in casks of 2 cwt.
1833   J. Holland Treat. Manuf. Metal II. 253   Dealers commonly distinguish these useful implements by the terms ‘sad-iron’, ‘box-iron’ and ‘Italian-iron’.
1899   Daily News 30 Oct. 2/7   Sadirons 10s. per ton [dearer].
1936   M. Mitchell Gone with the Wind i. v. 84   Hands like sadirons when it comes to reins.
1964   F. O’Rourke Mule for Marquesa 99   Washday smell,..don’t forget to damp and starch, spit on the sadiron.
1995   Mother Earth News Feb. 75/3 (advt.   Hundreds of old time general store items you thought they’d quit making years ago, including wooden kegs, pickle crocks,..sad irons, [etc.].

 

8.III.b. also mentioned ‘sadware’. Now that we know so many meanings for the word ‘sad’ we could take a guess at the meaning, but I thought I would include the OED definition to clarify.

sadware n.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

Now historical.
(Heavy) pewter flatware

‘Box Iron’

So what does the OED have to say about box, or hollow, irons? The OED has ‘box iron’ contained within the definition for ‘box’. (The OED does not have a separate entry for ‘hollow iron’.) Here is the relevant bit.

boxn.2
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

I. A container or receptacle, and related uses.

C1. General attributive.
c. With the sense ‘of the nature of, or resembling a box’.

box-iron  n. a smoothing iron with a cavity to contain a heater; also attributive.

1723   London Gaz. No. 6195/6   John Brown..Box-Iron-maker.
1746   H. Miles in Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc.) 44 56   Box-Irons for smoothing Linen-Clothes.

Images of Irons

Here are some images of the types of irons mentioned above as well as some other interesting iron variations as well.

This site has a photo and information about an extant sad iron.

This site (also linked in my last post) has a helpful description of box irons and how they were heated in the past as well as how they are used today. There are also a few helpful images, including box irons and sad irons.

This site has drawings of all kinds of irons, including a box iron (and variations such as charcoal and gas), a polishing iron, a millinery iron, an egg iron, an Italian iron (and the bolt used to heat it), and two different types of specialty tongs used for pressing trims.

This site has a photo and information about an extant charcoal (box) iron.

The Italian iron, also called a goffering iron, is mentioned in the OED quote from 1833 in the entry for ‘sad iron’. One of these was featured in the video from the Oshawa Community Museum that I included in my last post, and here is another extant one, with a photo and information.

Other specialty irons existed, too. Check out this billiard table iron.

Please note: The Oxford English Dictionary is only available by subscription, therefore I have not included links to the definitions in this post, as you will not be able to access them simply by clicking a link. Many libraries have subscriptions to the OED, so if you would like to conduct your own adventures in etymology I suggest you start there for access.

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