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By Tom Sloper (湯姆 斯洛珀)
January 8, The Year Of The Rabbit
(until January 22, then it'll be the year of the Dragon)
Column #502

"What's in a Word, part 5." I've ranted before about how some words are used confusingly by mah-jongg players (see columns 353, 460, 463, and 477). Today I'm ranting about how mah-jongg set collectors and sellers use ambiguous words. On January 3 I got emails (on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board) from Jason, an eBay seller. He wanted me to settle a question that had been raised about a set he was auctioning. He'd said that the set was "antique," "vintage." He'd said that the set's rulebook was "very old." A viewer of his auction had then contacted Jason, claiming that the set was "modern," and not "antique" or "vintage" at all. Jason wanted me to arbitrate. But I couldn't, because I don't know what those words mean to Jason, or to the other fellow! Those words are subjective and context-sensitive.

I've seen different definitions for this word. Some people say a thing is antique if it's 25 years old; some say 100. My old American Heritage Dictionary says, in part, that antique means "characteristic of ancient Greece or Rome. 2. Belonging to, made in, or typical of an earlier period. 3. Old-fashioned." So this word is definitely ambiguous, wouldn't you say?

The word "vintage" is primarily used in reference to wines, and secondarily, it's an oft-used eBay word. Sellers use it on eBay to make an old thing sound snootily elderly. My old American Heritage Dictionary defines "vintage" as "characterized by excellence, maturity, and enduring appeal; venerable; classic." It doesn't say how "mature" a thing has to be before it can rightly be called "vintage." Victoria, who emailed me on December 22, says 40 years. But that's her opinion.

This word is relative. "Modern literature" goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century. "Modern art" goes back even earlier, mid-19th Century. "Modernism" often refers to things designed post-WWI. In mah-jongg terms, though...? It depends on context. Modern might mean after the 1930s, or it might mean after the 1960s. You tell me.

Old / Very Old
Obviously relative terms. I'm old, but I don't think I'm "very old." If I was a dog, I would be positively ancient. If I was a California Redwood, I'd be totally youthful. This term can't be used without clarification or context. And in my opinion, that applies to all these words.

Mah-jongg's golden era was the roaring twenties. To me, a set from the 20s would rightly be "vintage." To me, a set older than that would be "antique." And any set made after the 20s I would call "modern."


This is part of an occasional series on "Words."

  • Part 1: Column 353
  • Part 2: Column 460
  • Part 3: Column 463
  • Part 4: Column 477
  • Part 5: Column 502

    Click the entries in the header frame, above, to read other columns.

    © 2012 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.