Did You Know?
Scrimshaw is a distinctly North American folk art, but no one knows just where it started or how it got its name. Native peoples of Alaska and Canada have carved ivory for centuries, but when "scrimshaw" is used in modern English, it is most often associated with 18th- and 19th-century whalers of the ilk Herman Melville described as "examining ... divers specimens of skrimshander" in Moby Dick (1851). As you can see from Melville's example, "scrimshander" was originally a synonym of "scrimshaw" (back then, the artists were most likely called "scrimshoners"). "Scrimshaw" and "scrimshander" may have originated with the surname of a sailor who was particularly skilled at the art, but if such an individual did exist, he is unknown today.
Origin of scrimshander
First Known Use: 1851
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