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This turned up in one of the late Ivor Brown’s books on language and led me down unfrequented pathways to ancient public-school slang. As Ivor Brown spelled it broshering, my initial steps were false, since I could find it in only one other place:

“‘Appius’, so-called, had been the head of a conspiracy for ‘broshering’ their dame, that was, eating her out of house and home — eating and drinking everything that was on the table, and what was sent up afterwards, and still always asking for more.”

Reminiscences of Eton by the Reverend Charles Allix Wilkinson, 1888.

This needs some footnotes. At Eton College, a dame was usually a matron — in the language of the time this meant a married woman, especially one of mature years — who kept a boarding-house for boys at the school. However, Kirk Mattoon told me of a book of 1984 by John Chandos, Boys Together, about the British public schools of that period, in which appears this comment: “Everyone, male or female, except classics tutors, who kept a boarding house to accommodate Eton boys was a ‘Dame’.” What was so different about classics tutors?

Doug Wilson of the American Dialect Society put me right about the spelling and from then on it was plain sailing. Farmer and Henley’s Slang and its Analogues of 1890 included brosiering my dame as Eton College slang and described its use in this way: “At Eton, when a dame keeps an unusually bad table, the boys agree together on a day to eat, pocket, or waste everything eatable in the house. The censure is well understood, and the hint is generally effective”. Other sources note it was originally Cheshire slang for a bankrupt and that an Eton boy who had spent all his pocket money was said to be brosiered.

Such is the school slang of yesteryear, than which there is nothing deader.

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Page created 09 Apr 2011