A Note from the Editor:
As I read the proofs for the most recent issue of the magazine, I saw that the word “vintage” comes up in several headlines and stories. We’ve used it as a synonym for antique, another time to mean original; most often we use it to connote a certain look, or “of an era.” I think I know what vintage means, and where the word comes from, but let me look it up...
Judging from search-engine hits, “vintage” recently has become a controversial word, all because of eBay. Apparently certain unscrupulous sellers fudge their meaning, using the word “vintage” to suggest antiquity and value where neither exists. Moving on to dictionaries, here’s what I find:
- Vintage (noun) is one season’s yield of grapes or wine from a vineyard or a district. Also: the year or place where the wine was bottled. Also: wines of exceptional quality or age.
- As an adjective, vintage means (1) relating to a vintage. (2) Characterized by excellence, maturity, enduring appeal—in other words, a classic. (3) Old or outmoded. (4) The best of. (5) The most distinctive of.
- Vintage (noun) is also used as a synonym for era, period, type, and time of origin. My old Webster’s says “a collection of contemporaneous and similar things.”
- As an adjective, the word is used as a synonym for classic, old, veteran, historic, heritage, enduring, timeless, and ageless. This is from Pudd’n’head Wilson by Mark Twain:
He told them a good many humorous anecdotes, and always forgot the nub, but they were always able to furnish it, for these yarns were of a pretty early vintage, and they had had many a rejuvenating pull at them before.
I’m satisfied by our writers’ use of the word “vintage.” We mean to suggest a particular time with particular characteristics. Sometimes we’re referring to something old that has survived, other times to new work done to evoke a time and its conventions. The difference is always obvious from the context. We would be more likely to call something of the Victorian era “antique” because 100 years has passed. A starburst mirror of 1962 is better called vintage. But one can create a “new vintage” kitchen, too, according to the definitions.
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Sources: eBay discussion board; thefreelibrary.com (Pudd’n’head Wilson, Chapter 7); The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Houghton Mifflin, 2009); Collins English Dictionary (HarperCollins, 2003); Collins Thesaurus of the English Language (HarperCollins 2002); Merriam–Webster Dictionary (various editions).