This is from a weekly newsletter e-mail, A Phrase A Week, sent to 125,500 subscribers. Im one. SO, about square meal:Meaning - A substantial, nourishing meal. Origin - It is frequently repeated, by tour guides and the like, that the expression 'a square meal' originated from the Royal Navy practice of serving meals on square wooden plates. Such plates did exist so that is a plausible story, but there's no other evidence to support it. In fact, the lateness of the first printed record (see below) pretty well rules this out as a credible theory.
This 'square plate' theory is one of the best-known examples of folk-etymology. The phrase exists, the square plates exist, and two and two make five. To be more precise, what we have here is a back-formation. Someone hears the phrase 'square meal' and then invents a plausible story to fit it.
The word square has many meanings, including 'proper, honest, straightforward', and that's the meaning in 'square meal'. This isn't a rectilinear meal on right-angled crockery, but a good and satisfying meal.
The phrase is of U.S. origin. All the early citations are from America, including this, the earliest print referencefound - an advertisement for the Hope and Neptune restaurant, in the California newspaper The Mountain Democrat, November 1856: We can promise all who patronize us that they can always get a hearty welcome and square meal at the Hope and Neptune. Oyster, chicken and game suppers prepared at short notice.
There certainly was a spate of coinages of 'food words' in the USA around that date. The terms below all originated in the 1830s and 40s: chili con carne, clambake, cottage cheese,cupcake, gazpacho, jerky, restaurant, tea cake, tenderloin, tutti-frutti, seafood. [I regret the coinage of tutti-frutti, even with the subsequent rock n roll classic, Tutti-frutti, all rooty originally performed in 1955, made famous by Little Richard. I dont like tutti-frutti ice cream, either. We wordies have words we dont like.]
The use of 'square' to mean honest and straightforward goes back to at least the 16th century; for example, in 1591, in Robert Greene's Defence of Conny Catching: For feare of trouble I was fain to try my good hap at square play. Soon after that, Shakespeare used it in Anthony and Cleopatra, 1606: She's a most triumphant Lady, if report be square to her.
So Shakespeares square, just as generations of teenagers have maintained.
ONLINE DEPARTMENT The New Alphabet (Thanks, C.G.) A is for apple, and B is for boat; that used to be right, but now it wont float. Age before beauty is what we once said, but lets be a bit more realistic instead. As for arthritis; Bs the bad back; Cs the chest pains, perhaps car-di-ac? Ds for dental decay and decline; Es for eyesight, cant read that top line! Fs for pills for fluid retention; Gs for gas, which Id rather not mention; Hs high blood pressure, better if low; Is for incisions with scars you can show; Js for joints, out of socket, wont mend; Ks for knees that crack when they bend; Ls for lazars so eyes can read text; Ms for memory, who knows what goes next; Ns for neuralgia in nerves way down low; Os for osteo, bones that dont grow; Ps for prescriptions youll be good as new; Qs for queasy, is it fatal or flu? Rs for reflux, one meals turns to two; Ss for sleepless nights mulling your fears; Ts for tinnitus, bells in your ears! Us for urinary, troubles with flow; Vs for vertigo, thats dizzy, you know; Ws for worry, what maladys going round? Xs for X-ray and what might be found; Ys for another year in the downward swirl; Zs for the zest you have but dont try to twirl!
BW (Bigtime Word) epenthesis the erroneous insertion of an extra sound in the pronunciation (and sometimes, eventually, the spelling) of a word. What you guys do to mischievous when you say (incorrectly) mis chee vee ous.