E-MAGAZINE 673: SATURDAY 16 JANUARY 2010
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Twenty-three skidoo Jonathon Green, editor of Chambers Slang Dictionary, pointed me to Will Irwin’s Confessions of a Con Man of 1909. Irwin describes a dice game using eight dice which he calls cloth, the name coming from a sheet of green felt marked off into squares numbered eight to forty-eight, each giving the result of a throw. The key point is that square 23 is marked “lose”. Will Irwin comments that “I don’t need to say that ‘twenty-three’, as slang, comes from this game. The circus used it for years before it was ever heard on Broadway.” To be strict about it, it’s not proof of anything as it stands, because we have only this one reference to the game and to the meaning of the number, but on the face of it, it’s a plausible origin for the first half of the expression.
A far, far better thing for me to have done would have been to get the name of Dickens’s hero right: it’s Sydney Carton, not Carlton.
Jollop Many readers wondered if there might be a link between the older jalap form of this word and either julep or jalopy. A julep, before it was that minty drink I associate with Scarlett O’Hara, was a sweetened liquid medication, so in that sense there’s certainly a connection. However, there’s no doubt about its origin (it’s via French and Latin from Persian words meaning “rose water”) and the two words are etymologically unconnected. As to jalopy, the origin of this US slang term for a dilapidated old car is unknown, though one of the many stories attempting to explain it does link it with Jalopa in Mexico, the known origin of jalap.
In the piece, I quoted John Walker, from his Critical Pronouncing Dictionary of 1791: “The pronunciation of this word, as if written Jollop, which Mr. Sheridan has adopted, is, in my opinion, now confined to the illiterate and vulgar.” Kirk Mattoon points out that this wasn’t the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, but his father, Thomas Sheridan, who published A General Dictionary of the English Language in 1780. In it he did indeed suggest that way of saying the word (dzhol-lup). As the subtitle of his dictionary shows (“One main object of which, is, to establish a plain and permanent standard of pronunciation”), Thomas Sheridan, an Irishman who was an actor as well as an elocutionist, intended by his work to teach the English how to speak. It is clear that John Walker was not amused (neither was Noah Webster, when Sheridan’s book became popular in North America at the end of the century).
2. Weird Words: Drunkard’s cloak
We are in the northern English city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the late 1640s, during the Cromwellian Commonwealth following the Civil War. The city fathers became unhappy, as many municipal authorities had before and many have since, with the levels of drunkenness among the local
References to it appeared in many works in the nineteenth century, often as a moralistic warning of the dangers of intemperance:
We may safely affirm that it would be better for them to be put inside of barrels in that way, than to allow them to put the contents of rum and whisky barrels inside themselves, as they are too fond of doing.
The Friend, a Religious and Literary Journal, 10 June 1854. It was published in Philadelphia by the Society of Friends.
It was sometimes implied it was a common punishment in medieval times. That was debunked by William Andrews in his book of 1899, Bygone Punishments. He pointed out that it, and the term, had never been applied in any other place or at any other period. He argued that it’s uncertain if the punishment was ever even exacted in Newcastle. There’s no reference to it in the city’s records and the sole evidence for it, he said, is this:
He hath seen men drove up and down the streets, with a great tub or barrel opened in the sides, with a hole in one end to put through their heads, and so cover their shoulders and bodies, down to the small of their legs, and then close the same, called the new-fashioned cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders; and this is their punishment for drunkards and the like.
England’s Grievance Discovered in Relation to the Coal Trade, by Ralph Gardner, 1666.
However, there are a number of references, including one by Samuel Pepys in his diary in 1660, to its having been a punishment used in continental Europe for various offences.
Much the same image turns up in cartoons of people who have lost everything, even their clothes, though usually the barrel is worn off the shoulder on straps. I suspect this may be an independent invention and not a reference to this rather rare punishment, as a shift in sense from drunkenness to bankruptcy, while not utterly impossible, would be a stretch.
3. What I've learned this week
Not a problem but an opportunity Susan Dominus, writing in the New York Times on 8 January, introduced me to crisitunity, a blend of crisis and opportunity (though she spells it crisatunity,
Na’vi fans The financial and popular success of James Cameron’s film Avatar, about a classic colonial encounter between exploiters of mineral wealth and noble savage indigenes on a distant world, has led to the press and bloggers sarcastically naming its loyal supporters Avatards, even the ones who don’t paint their faces blue. This has been borrowed from the name given to the fans of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, who are called Twihards or Twi-Hards, which I’m fairly sure is a reversed blend of diehard Twilight.
Grey power In a speech to an Age UK conference on Tuesday, the equality minister Harriet Harman seems to have introduced a word to the British press and public: wellderly. This collective term for healthy elderly people was noted by Nature in August 2008 as being “a term likely to irritate linguistic purists”, though we regularly see many that are worse. All early examples are American; from 2002 on they are often associated with a Minneapolis physician, Dr Dale Anderson. He attempted to promote the health benefits of happiness, humour and laughter by creating National Act Happy Day and National Wellderly Day. But he didn’t invent the word. It appeared first in Time magazine in December 1981 in an article that reported on the third White House Conference on Aging: “In contrast to what the White House claims is a stereotypic view that the elderly are destitute, enfeebled, neglected and unfed, the Reaganauts have been promoting the image of the wellderly.” [Reaganauts: devoted followers of the policies of President Ronald Reagan, a term supposedly formed by sarcastic analogy with argonaut, one of the legendary ancient Greek heroes who accompanied Jason in the ship Argo in the quest for the Golden Fleece.]
4. Questions and Answers: Sundae
[Q] From David Burry, Montreal: Hi, Great site! Any idea where the word sundae comes from? As in ice-cream sundae?
[A] Answering this one seemed easy, since the straightforward answer is that sundae is no more than a respelling of Sunday.
Anyhow. Let’s get some facts sorted out. The first known appearance of the word sundae is this:
Peach Sundae. Ice cream, vanilla or peach .. 5 ounces. Crushed or sliced peaches .... 2 ounces. Serve with a spoon. Pear, orange, raspberry and other fruit sundaes are made by adding the syrup or fruit to the ice cream.
Modern Guide for Soda Dispensers, by Wesley A Bonham, 1897.
But the same or a similar dish is certainly known earlier. This is where matters get contentious in a gentlemanly sort of way. The cities of Ithaca in New York State, Evanston in Illinois, and Two Rivers in Wisconsin have all competed to be its originators.
Ithaca has a particularly powerful claim both to inventing the dish and creating a name for it. A advertisement in the local newspaper has been widely mentioned and reproduced:
Cherry Sunday. A new 10 cent Ice Cream Speciality, Served only at Platt & Colt’s Famous day and night Soda Fountain.
Ithaca Daily Journal, 5 Apr. 1892. The new dish was described in the paper on 11 April as “ice-cream served in a champagne glass with cherry juice syrup and candied French cherries on top”; another ad of 28 May promoted the firm’s strawberry Sunday. A letter of March 1894 survives from a Washington patent attorney, showing that the firm had tried to trademark Sunday for its ice cream concoctions, but was unsuccessful.
The story associated with its creation is extraordinarily detailed, based in large measure on a letter of 1936 written for the record by DeForest Christiance, the soda fountain clerk at Platt & Colt in 1892. He wrote that on Sunday 3 April 1892 the Reverend John M Scott visited the store and was served with a bowl of ice cream. The proprietor, Chester Platt (who was the treasurer of Mr Scott’s church and a friend), topped it with cherry syrup and a candied cherry in an attempt to provide something a little special. Scott suggested that this delicious new dish be named for the day it was created — hence Cherry Sunday. We must be suspicious of the details of this anecdotal claim, made nearly four decades after the event, but the newspaper evidence shows that the name became known in Ithaca almost immediately.
Whether the competing claims of the other cities to be the creators of the dish have merit, I’m ill-placed to judge and don’t intend to try. It is often said that the term was invented because the dish was originally only served on Sundays, as a way to circumvent local edicts against serving ice-cream sodas on the Sabbath. This story is particularly associated with the staunchly Methodist Evanston.
But the evidence of these printed sources makes the claim of Ithaca to be the birthplace of the Sunday a strong one. What we don’t know for sure is whether it was this word from this community that became the basis for the later sundae.
Why the spelling was changed at all is also unclear. It’s said it was out of deference to religious people’s feelings about the use of the word Sunday for commercial purposes. Or it might have been through an attempt by some seller to differentiate his product from that of the competition, only to sadly see it become generic. The spelling Sundi is also on record, though it is very rare. In a few places, notably around Fitchburg and North Adams in Massachusetts, they were advertised in the late 1890s as college ices.
• Your Freudian slip is showing: a medical item on the Times site dated 9 January pleased Pete Jones because of a delightful error in spelling: “Viagra takes half an hour to work and the effects last for only four hours. Cialis takes 15 minutes to work and the effects last thirty-sex hours.”
• You may argue, as many have following my snarky comment last week, that we must wait a year to celebrate 2001-2010 as the first decade of the century, rather than 2000-2009. But it could be worse. Jim Tang suggests that the Maui News on Hawaii is either calendrically challenged or is trying too hard to please everyone. A headline on 3 January: “2000 to 2010 decade in review”.
• In the Trivia section on the Internet Movie Database, Brendan Hale found the following on 10 January: “Avatars have five fingers and toes on their hands and feet and eyebrows, whereas the Na’vi only have four and no eyebrows.”
6. Copyright and contact details
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