‘Hells Bells’ or ‘I’ll be dipped’: Notes on Swearing.

In 1904, Roland D. Sawyer launched a crusade against obscenity. No one ever heard my grandmother, in all her eighty-three years, utter a bad word. I can only once remember her even raising her voice. “It’s all fouled up!” she cried then, shaking a broken TV set. She said it with such frustration and despair […]

Language from the Old Guv.

“wacka” A juicy rumour so important that an instant crowd of workers would gather on hearing the wacka alert whistle. No good ever came out of spreading a “wacka.” “Like blowflies around a lump of shit” The Dago’s masterly description of a “wacka” crowd gathering and hovering around like eager to hear the latest gossip. […]

‘The Clang Out.’

Hot Metal Comps. had a unique way of saying goodbye to a workmate who was retiring from the trade. There was a hell of a lot of racket in the Comp Room when it happened! The journeyman Comps. and their Apprentices would scatter everywhere grabbing small chases, metal galleys, quoin keys, furniture or anything remotely […]

What does the term ‘As thick as thieves’ mean?

Origin: We might expect ‘as thick as thieves’ to be a variant of the other commonly used ‘thick’ simile ‘as thick as two short planks’. The fact that the former expression originated as ‘as thick as two thieves’ gives more weight to that expectation. As you may have guessed from that lead in, the two […]

Truth, Beauty & Volapük.

Johann Schleyer on a harp given to him as a 50th birthday present by his colleagues at Sionsharfe, a magazine devoted mainly to Catholic poetry, which Schleyer edited and in which he first published on Volapük in 1879 – Johann Schleyer was a German priest whose irrational passion for umlauts may have been his undoing. […]

The ‘Billy’ in Australian Culture

The term billy or billycan is particularly associated with Australian usage, but is also used in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is widely accepted that the term “billycan” is derived from the large cans used for transporting bouilli or bully beef on Australia-bound ships or during exploration of the outback, which after use were […]

‘Once Upon a Time’…

IMAGE By WALTER CRANE, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, 1875.  We take the phrase “once upon a time” for granted, but if you think about it, it’s quite oddball English. Upon a time—? That’s just a strange construction. It would be pleasant to know its history: When, more or less, does it get up on its […]

Increase Word Power with Roget’s Thesaurus.

Peter Mark Roget was born on 18 January 1779 in London, the son of a Swiss clergyman. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University and graduated in 1798. As a young doctor he published works on tuberculosis and on the effects of nitrous oxide, known as ‘laughing gas’, then used as an anaesthetic. Roget worked in […]

A History of Unusual Names.

Whilst conducting research into my family tree, I discovered a small collection of little girls born around between 1897-98 who were named either ‘Diamond’, ‘Jubilee’ or ‘Diamond Jubilee’, in honour of Queen Victoria’s landmark anniversary. Looking a bit closer and going for a wildcard search, I found that it was a very popular phenomena! Even […]

‘Porridged’.

Porridge “A Breakfast Dish made with oats, very hot water, salt and stirred becoming a sticky mess generally consumed by the lower classes in England and in Australia.” OR “A prison sentence in a British Prison, e.g.”doing your porridge”. Immortalised in the wonderful British TV Comedy “Porridge” starring Ronnie Barker. OR “In South Australia down […]