Date: Wed, 8 Oct 1997 09:16:56 -0700


Subject: Weeds

I don't remember where I first encountered the term "widow's weeds," but

it was clear to me that it was archaic/literary, and it was always clear

from the context that it meant "clothes that a widow wears to a funeral."

I don't think I've ever run across this "weed" ( OE waed, imagine a

ligature and a macron) either in the singular or without the "widow."

I was astonished recently to run across someone (a copyeditor for a major

publishing house, yet) who claimed not to understand the term at all, and

further investigation revealed that college-age people I asked not only

had never encountered it but were unable to guess its meaning even when

offered the context, "At the funeral, the grandmother wore widow's weeds."

("Some kind of plant?!" one wondered.) The older the person asked, the

more likely they were to have heard it, or if they said they had never

heard it, they could still guess that it meant mourning clothes generally

or perhaps some specific item of clothing.

My question: does anyone know if this term ("weed" or "weeds," with or

without the widow) survives anywhere in living speech?

Peter McGraw