It’s Independence Day, and it’s time to raise Old Glory high, spend a few greenbacks on fireworks, and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner”! While you’re doing that, pause for a moment and reflect on a great seldom-asked question: What is the definition of spangle?
We all sing it. We all know it in the phrase “star-spangled banner.” But it wasn’t invented for that phrase. It’s one of a few odd words and phrases connected with America and the Fourth of July that we may use without thinking twice about … until now.
A spangle is a sparkly thing that dangles: a geometric piece of shiny metal or plastic ornamentation. Or, by figurative use, anything that looks like one. It’s pretty much the same as a sequin, although costume historians argue about the difference. Spangle is also a verb meaning “adorn with spangles” or “glitter as if spangled.” It comes from a Middle English word, spang, meaning “shiny ornament.” It probably came from a Scandinavian language. English has had it for about twice as long as the United States has been independent. But we don’t talk about spangles as much today — if Francis Scott Key had written his poem a century and a half later, we might be singing about “the star-sequined banner.”
When you run up the grand old flag, you may also put out bunting — festive decorations such as drapery and fan-folded fabric in the red, white, and blue. Did you know the flag itself is also bunting? The word originally refers to the kind of sturdy material that flags and festive draperies are made out of (when they’re not made out of paper). From that it came to be used for the decorations. The origins of the word are a bit unclear, but it’s not related to the kind of bunting a baseball player does, though that’s pretty American too.
You know the word score, of course, as in the score of a baseball game, or the score of a musical work (for instance the sheet music to “The Star-Spangled Banner”). But Abraham Lincoln wasn’t talking about either of those when he said “Four score and seven years ago…” He was speaking at Gettysburg, 87 years after the new nation of the U.S.A. was brought forth. So the math is simple: A score is 20. But we pretty much never use it to mean that anymore, except …read more