Last night my wife raised the question of how old brand names are (I guessed nineteenth-century, but if anyone has any good links on the subject, please share); in the course of looking up the word brand in the OED, I noticed the headword bratticing. When I told my wife it meant ‘the furnishing of the ramparts of a castle with temporary parapets or breastworks,’ she immediately said “Temporary breastworks? That would be a good word for a brassiere.” For the millionth time, I was glad I’d married her.

Today I looked at the definition again and saw the note “From the preceding illiterate Sc. spelling bertisene, Sir Walter Scott appears to have evolved the grandiose BARTIZAN, vaguely used by him for bretising or bratticing, and accepted by later writers as a genuine historical term”; sure enough, the etymology for bartizan is:

[In no dictionary before 1800; not in Todd 1818, nor Craig 1847. Apparently first used by Sir Walter Scott, and due to a misconception of a 17th c. illiterate Sc. spelling, bertisene, for bertising, i.e. bretising, BRATTICING, f. bretasce (BRATTICE), a. OF. bretesche, ‘battlemented parapet, originally of wood and temporary.’ Bartizan is thus merely a spurious ‘modern antique,’ which had no existence in the times to which it is attributed.]

Fie, Sir Walter! But at least his misunderstanding was less embarrassing than poor Browning’s.


  1. Re: the origin of brand names — interesting question.
    Some brand names are significantly older than mid 19th C.: This page — — lists 100 companies around the world in the same family for centuries, many of them are well-known brand names also. Other old brands passed out of family control at some point but are still around; one that comes to mind is Bols, the Dutch distiller, which was founded in 1595.
    The idea of trademark protection for brand names is not that recent, either, although solid legislation didn’t come along until the 19th C. There’s a timeline here:, which takes trademarking right back to the cave dwellers and shows brand seals on early Middle Eastern bricks and pottery.
    I assume the word “brand” has roots in the idea of stamping or marking something as in cattle branding.

  2. We live in the time of the spurious modern antique.
    (I read that as “a good word for a brasserie” first. Depends on the clientele, I imagine.)

  3. Martin: Thanks for the links. I had originally thought of cattle branding too, but the OED implies that casks of wine are more relevant: “A trade-mark, whether made by burning or otherwise. (Applied to trade-marks on casks of wines or liquors, timber, metals, and any description of goods except textile fabrics.)”

  4. Old Brand Names are fine. How are Old Language Hat? Long time no see.

  5. Another point of interest is that branding by burning is a form of printing that predates Gutenberg (as do those stamp-imprinted Mesopotamian bricks).

  6. From what I’ve read, the branding of mass-produced products doesn’t really become ubiquitous until the late 19th century, but it does start to take off with newspaper advertising and expanding consumerism in the 18th century, of which the medical marketplace was a key part. Here’s a typical type of advert, placed at the end of a 1678 murder pamphlet: “Dr. Bromfield’s pills against the scurvey, and all other diseases, are to be sold by Thomas Hancox bookseller in Hereford.” This kind of quack medicine could reasonably be regarded as a form of brand name. Or a really clear example of a much more enduring and famous brand name, established in the 2nd half of the 18th century, would be that of the potter Josiah Wedgwood.

  7. Ancient schoolboy joke:
    “What is the difference between a fort and a fortress?”
    “A fortress has breastworks.”

  8. Heh. I missed that one when I was a schoolboy.
    sharon: Thanks, that’s the kind of thing I was looking for!

  9. Joseph Eros says

    Walter Scott apparently had a way with spelling errors: the name “Cedric” was first used by him (in _Ivanhoe_) apparently as a misspelling of the historical name Cerdic.

  10. Hmmm, when I saw the headline “BRATTICING/BARTIZAN” I read “bratticing” as “bratticizing,” the act of turning into a brat, and having “bartizan” remind me of Bart Simpson, a well known brat, didn’t help.
    I guess a Bartizan under that reading would be someone who aspires to be a brat like Bart. Is this how new words and word meanings come about?

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