Elevenses: Last week, a reader asked whether this unfamiliar-to-them usage was from my Alberta upbringing. Another reader explained that it was from Winnie the Pooh, who liked to have a little something sweet at–you guessed it–11 AM.
A.A. Milne used this word but didn’t coin it: It was, and is, informal British usage. The word derived, apparently, from a light meal called an elevener (circa 1823) and by 1887 had morphed into the elevenses we know today. Or don’t know, as the case may be.
As it turns out, I know elevenses but don’t know where I picked it up. I have no memory of anyone reading Winnie the Pooh to me (Did I read it on my own? Maybe). A quick Google search shows that Tolkien used it in The Lord of the Rings, referring to hobbits’ meal preferences (Was that where I learned it? Could be). I have no memory of anyone in the family indulging in elevenses-by-that-name, or offering me one (Some? Probably).
It seems an odd thing to have stuck without any reinforcement, but there it is: Our learnings *are* odd, and often unencumbered with conscious memory. I remember thinking that the Russia-and-the-United States I heard about so often on the radio was one place, one country, and have no idea how or when I got that sorted out.
And if we expand know to know-how-to, the examples explode. I know how to tie my shoes and brush my teeth, but don’t remember learning to do so. So it is with putting-on a cardigan, top-side up. Setting the dinner table. Making a bed. Wrapping a gift. Taking the bus. Making a phone call. Running the washing machine.
In the context of learning all these skills, it’s no wonder that learning a new word hardly registers.