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We have always heard mulling used for stirring, bustling, sometimes in an underhand way. It is a metaphor derived probably from mulling wine, and the word itself must be a corruption of mell, from 0. F. mesler. Pair of stairs is in Hakluyt. To pull up stakes is in Curwen's Journal, and therefore pre-Revolutionary. I think I have met with it earlier. Raise : under this word Mr. Bartlett omits “ to raise a house,” that is, the frame of a wooden one, and also the substantive formed from it, a raisin'. Retire for go to bed is in Fielding's “Amelia.” Setting-poles cannot be new, for I find "some set (the boats] with long poles” in Hakluyt. Shoulder-hitters : I find that shoulder-striker is old, though I have lost the reference to my authority. Snag is no new word, though perhaps the Western application of it is so; but I find in Gill the proverb, “A bird in the bag is worth two on the snag." Dryden has swop and to rights. Trail: Hakluyt has “many wayes traled by the wilde beastes."
I subjoin a few phrases not in Mr. Bartlett's book which I have heard. Bald-headed : “to go it baldheaded ”; in great haste, as where one rushes out without his hat. Bogue : "I don't git much done 'thout I bogue right in along 'th my men.” Carry: a portage. Cat-nap: a short doze. Cat-stick: a small stick. Chowder-head : a muddle-brain. Cling-john: a soft cake of rye. Cocoa-nut : the head. Cohees' : applied to the people of certain settlements in Western Pennsylvania, from their use of the archaic form Quo' he. Dunnow'r I know : the nearest your true Yankee ever comes to acknowledging ignorance. Essence-pedler: a skunk. First-rate and a half. Fish-flakes, for drying fish : 0. E. fleck (cratis). Gander-party : a social gathering of men only. Gawnicus : a dolt. Hawkins's whet
stone : rum; in derision of one Hawkins, a well-known temperance-lecturer. Hyper : to bustle : “I mus' hyper about an' git tea.” Keeler-tub: one in which dishes are washed. (“And Greasy Joan doth keel the pot.”) Lap-tea: where the guests are too many to sit at table. Last of pea-time: to be hard-up. Löse-laid (looselaid): a weaver's term, and probably English ; weakwilled. Malahack : to cut up hastily or awkwardly. Moonglade: a beautiful word: for the track of moonlight on the water. Off-ox: an unmanageable, crossgrained fellow. Old Driver, Old Splitfoot; the Devil. Onhitch : to pull trigger (cf. Spanish disparar). Popular : conceited. Rote : sound of surf before a storm. Rot-gut: cheap whiskey ; the word occurs in Heywood's “ English Traveller” and Addison's “ Drummer," for a poor kind of drink. Seem: it is habitual with the New-Englander to put this verb to strange uses, as, “I can't seem to be suited,” “I could n't seem to know him.” Sidehill, for hillside. State-house : this seems an Americanism, whether invented or derived from the Dutch Stadhuys, I know not. Strike and string : from the game of ninepins ; to make a strike is to knock down all the pins with one ball, hence it has come to mean fortunate, successful. Swampers: men who break out roads for lumberers. Tormented : euphemism for damned, as, “not a tormented cent." Virginia fence, to make a : to walk like a drunken man.
It is always worth while to note down the erratic words or phrases which one meets with in any
dialect. They may throw light on the meaning of other words, on the relationship of languages, or even on history itself. In so composite a language as ours they often supply a different form to express a different shade of meaning, as in viol and fiddle, thrid and thread, smother and smoulder, where the l has crept in by a false analogy with would. We have given back to England the excellent adjective lengthy, formed honestly like earthy, drouthy, and others, thus enabling their journalists to characterize our President's messages by a word civilly compromising between long and tedious, so as not to endanger the peace of the two countries by wounding our national sensitiveness to British criticism. Let me give two curious examples of the antiseptic property of dialects at which I have already glanced. Dante has dindi as a childish or low word for danari (money), and in Shropshire small Roman coins are still dug up which the peasants call dinders. This can hardly be a chance coincidence, but seems rather to carry the word back to the Roman soldiery. So our farmers say chuk, chuk, to their pigs, and ciacco is one of the Italian words for hog. When a countryman tells us that he “ fell all of a heap,” I cannot help thinking that he unconsciously points to an affinity between our word tumble, and the Latin tumulus, that is older than most others. I believe that words, or even the mere intonation of them, have an astonishing vitality and power of propagation by the root, like the gardener's pest, quitch-grass,' while the application or combination of them
It is in these last that my countrymen seem to me full of humor, invention, quickness of wit, and that sense of subtle analogy which needs only refining to become fancy and imagination. Prosaic as American life seems in
many of its aspects to a European, bleak and bare as it is on the side of tradition, and utterly orphaned of the solemn inspiration of antiquity, I cannot help thinking that the ordinary talk of unlettered men among us is
i Which, whether in that form, or under its aliases witch-grass and cooch-grass, points us back to its original Saxon quick.
fuller of metaphor and of phrases that suggest lively images than that of any other people I have seen. Very many
such will be found in Mr. Bartlett's book, though his short list of proverbs at the end seem to me, with one or two exceptions, as un-American as possible. Most of them have no character at all but coarseness, and are quite too long-skirted for working proverbs, in which language always “takes off its coat to it,” as a Yankee would say. There are plenty that have a more native and puckery flavor, seedlings from the old stock often, and yet new varieties. One hears such not seldom among us Easterners, and the West would yield many
“ Mean enough to steal acorns from a blind hog"; "Cold as the north side of a Jenooary gravestone by starlight”; “Hungry as a graven image”; “ Pop'lar as a hen with one chicken”; “A hen's time ain't much”; “Quicker 'n greased lightnin'”; “Ther's sech a thing ez bein' tu" (our Yankee paraphrase of unde ayar); hence the phrase tooin' round, meaning a supererogatory activity like that of flies; “Stingy enough to skim his milk at both eends”; “Hot as the Devil's kitchen ”; “ Handy as a pocket in a shirt”; “He's a whole team and the dog under the wagon”; “ All deacons are good, but there's odds in deacons (to deacon berries is to put the largest atop); “So thievish they hev to take in their stone walls nights”; may serve as specimens. “I take my tea barfoot,” said a backwoodsman when asked if he would have cream and sugar. (I find barfoot, by the way, in the Coventry Plays.) A man speaking to me once of a very rocky clearing said, “Stone's got a pretty heavy mortgage on that land,” and I overheard a guide in the woods say to
1 And, by the way, the Yankee never says “o' nights,” but uses the older adverbial form, analogous to the German nachts.
his companions who were urging him to sing, “Wal, I did sing once, but toons gut invented, an' thet spilt my trade.” Whoever has driven over a stream by a bridge made of slabs will feel the picturesque force of the epithet slab-bridged applied to a fellow of shaky character. Almost every county has some good die-sinker in phrase, whose mintage passes into the currency of the whole neighborhood. Such a
Such a one described the county jail (the one stone building where all the dwellings are of wood) as “the house whose underpinnin' come up to the eaves," and called hell “the place where they did n't rake up their fires nights.” I once asked a stage-driver if the other side of a hill were as steep as the one we were climbing : “Steep? chain lightnin' could n' go down it 'thout puttin' the shoe on!” And this brings me back to the exaggeration of which I spoke before. To me there is something very taking in the negro “80 black that charcoal made a chalk-mark on him," and the wooden shingle "painted so like marble that it sank in water,” as if its very consciousness or its vanity had been overpersuaded by the cunning of the painter. I heard a man, in order to give a notion of some very cold weather, say to another that a certain Joe, who had been taking mercury, found a lump of quicksilver in each boot, when he went home to dinner. This power of rapidly dramatizing a dry fact into flesh and blood and the vivid conception of Joe as a human thermometer strike me as showing a poetic sense that may be refined into faculty. At any rate there is humor here, and not mere quickness of wit, - the deeper and not the shallower quality. The tendency of humor is always towards overplus of expression, while the very essence of wit is its logical precision. Captain Basil Hall denied that our people had any humor, deceived, perhaps, by their