Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Words, Customs, and the Plain Weird


An Old-English custom: If a man is caught sleeping on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and is kissed by a woman, he is obliged to present her with a pair of gloves.

Gardyloo is the warning cry about dirty water thrown from windows onto London streets, according to Tobias Smollett's "Expedition of Humphry Clinker" (1771).

According to Iona and Peter Opie's "Lore and Language of Schoolchildren" (1959), British youngsters commonly invoked rabbits for good fortune. 'On the first morning of the month,' notes a typical informant, 'before speaking to anyone else, one must say white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits, for luck.' Subject to minor modifications, the utterance of this spell appears to be accepted routine throughout Britian.

Vagitus is the distressing cry of persons under surgical operations, from Robert Hoopers's "Compendious Medical Dictionary" (1798).

A Coney-Catch is a swindler, the coney or the rabbit being considered a very simple animal.

Gwethall is the word used to denote an entire collection of household stuff, like 'bag and baggage,' according to G.C. Lewis's "Glossary of Provincial Words used in Herefordshire" (1839).

A Diurnalist is a journalist writing about the happenings of the day every day, according to Rev. John Boag's "Imperial Lexicon of the English Language" (1850).

To Treacle Up isn't akin to buttering up, but rather, to rub or polish. In the early 1900s, furniture was polishex with a mixture of beer, treacle, and vinegar, according to Edward Gepp's "Essex Dialect Dictionary" (1923).

In the 1881 census, these were some of the doozies entered for occupation: egg cracker, teacher of wax flowers, gymnast to house painter, turnip shepherd, emasculator, colourist of artificial fish, and rust attendant at lavatory.


3 comments:

Keira Soleore said...

Deb Marlowe wrote, "Ha! These are good, Keira! Wonder what the going rate was for an emasculator? LOL."

Ha! Same as the rust attendant, I'm thinking.

Anna Campbell said...

Loved these, Keira. Actually one of my favorites that sounds dirty but isn't is cunny hunting. It means looking for women to seduce but the cunny comes from 'coney'. Wonder what you thought it came from!

And in Australia, we still say white rabbits!

Keira Soleore said...

Now, now, Fo. I'm positive the word cunny there was deliberately meant as the double-entendre word, and everyone who uses the term does so with tongue firmly planted in the cheek.

Hope you're having a white rabbit night. :)