Friday, January 1, 2010

Even More joys of Slang

The excitement of discovering that what you thought the phrase meant is exactly what it meant...in 1811

Slang dictionaries remind me that whatever the rules are, the words will always escape. They don’t remain tied to their classifications as parts of speech, and they certainly don’t rest in the comfort of a neat dictionary definition. Nor will they be tied down to the ball and chain of etymology.

It’s reassuring though to find phrases I thought I’d misheard, misremembered or which had simply been misused. I’d come to the conclusion that Cupboard Love must have been a mistake (perhaps for covert love) but no, it’s there and it meant what I thought it meant. As does/did Mumchancing.

It’s even more reassuring to find out how much hasn’t changed. Phrases that needed explaining in 1811: Kick the bucket, out of kilter, a lazy man’s load, lop-sided, queer street, toddle etc etc meant the same thing 150 years later and were still colouring the speech of adults and children alike.

And then there are the phrases used today which needed explaining then and which, if you stop and think about them, don’t make any more literal sense now. A shop lifter. To sit bolt upright. To be taken in.

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