Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Did They Really Say That?

One of the joys of leafing through the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is running across slang expressions and figures of speech still in use today that you would never guess were particularly old...but as it turns out, are. Here’s a list of the ones I’ve run across, along with their definitions as listed in the DVT, that make me laugh...and marvel at their longevity. Enjoy!

Sea Lawyer: A shark  (Yes, really!  This reminds me of an anecdote that I posted about a while back. Who knew lawyer jokes had such a long and distinguished history? )

Coming!  So is Christmas: Said of a person who has long been called, and at length answers, Coming! (We use this all the time in my family, so it totally tickled me to find it here.)

Birth-day Suit: He was in his birth-day suit, that is, stark naked. (Okay, this one totally surprised me—it just doesn’t sound old, does it?)

Black and White: In writing. I have it in black and white; I have written evidence. (Another very modern-sounding expression—maybe because we have a picture in our 21st century heads of 19th century paper being brownish rather than white?)

Kick the bucket: To die. He kicked the bucket one day; he died one day. (I did a little research on the origin of this phrase; the Oxford English Dictionary favors the one which involves pigs to be slaughtered being hung from a beam to allow the blood to drain from the carcass, the beam in question being a tr├ębuchet or buque in French (so presumably a Norman borrowing?)

Bears and Bulls: A bear is one who contracts to deliver a certain quantity or sum of stock in the publics funds, on a future day, and at stated price; or, in other words, sells what he has not got, like the huntsman in the fable, who sold the bear’s skin before the bear was killed. As the bear sells the stock he is not possessed of, so the bull purchases what he has not money to pay for; but in case of any alteration in the price agreed on, either party pays or receives the difference. (Wow, who knew?  It looks like the terms date from as much as a century before, tied up with the South Sea Bubble incident of ca. 1717.)

All right!: A favourite expression among thieves, to signify that all is as they wish, or proper for their purpose.

And speaking of all right, Regina and I thought it might be an all right time to have a group read since we haven’t done one for a long time. So mark your calendars for the week of March 29, when we’ll be discussing Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1853 classic Cranford. Regina and I will provide some history, but we hope you’ll jump in with comments and opinions.  And the cool thing is you can find Cranford for free on-line, at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as at Project Gutenberg. 
Happy reading!


Helena said...

I share your amazement at the age of some of these, which sound so modern. Thank you!

Marissa Doyle said...

You're very welcome!

Julie said...

OOOh - I love Cranford - haven't read it in awhile. I'm looking forward to the discussion!

Marissa Doyle said...

Yay! I hope you'll join in, Julie.

Regencyresearcher said...

I always imagined kick the bucket as referring to some one being hanged and having the bucket kicked out from under his feet. I have no basis for this-- it was just my idea of the origin.
The selected sayings have had a long life. Sometimes one wonders why for it is just as easy to say "he died" as "he kicked the bucket."

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Fun post, thanks. Is that where the PBS Masterpiece series Cranford came from?

Marissa Doyle said...

Yup! But from what I understand--I haven't yet watched the PBS version yet--they don't particularly bear much resemblance to each other.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Interesting-I may need to read the book, then. :-)

QNPoohBear said...

The Cranford series is based on several Gaskell stories: Cranford, Mr. Harrison Confesses, My Lady Ludlow and some others I think. The two seasons of the series are well worth watching. They feature an all star cast of British actors of the stage and screen. The only lady NOT in Cranford is Maggie Smith! Right off the bat ten pages into the book I can identify scenes used in the series. Like Lark Rise to Candleford, they took what appears on the page as a brief incident mentioned and turned it into a fleshed out episode.