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Newsletter 873
15 Mar 2014


1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Misanthrope.

3. Wordface.

4. Brown Windsor soup.

5. Sic!

6. Useful information.

1. Feedback, Notes and Comments

Winkle out Several readers suggested that a much earlier example of the figurative sense appeared in Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, published in 1811: “What sort of man is he, Miss Dashwood? Is he butcher, baker, candlestick-maker? I shall winkle it out of you somehow, you know!” Unfortunately for word sleuths, this appears only in the 1995 film and was an invention of the scriptwriter, Emma Thompson, who is thereby condemned to ceremonial hissing and booing for historical linguistic inaccuracy.

Many people noted that I might also have mentioned winklepickers, shoes with a long pointed toe. These were favoured by stylishly dressed young British men (and some women) of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Clubbing The majority response to Ted MacKinney’s query last week about clubs hands is that the phrase isn’t colloquial American English and so must be an unconscious blend of club together and join hands with. However, Harry Campbell found that the phrase clubbing hands with does appear online in several sources, all of them from India, where it may be an accepted expression. He also discovered an American example from a book of 1874, Forgiveness and Law, “To make sure against him, he undertakes to strengthen himself by clubbing hands with his great public enemy!” This may be set aside as an accidental one-off creation.

2. Misanthrope

A misanthrope dislikes the human race and avoids human society as far as possible. He — most are male — isn’t an easy person to get along with, and he would greatly prefer you didn’t try.

Misanthrope is from the classical Greek misanthropos. It shares with misogyny and a few other words a beginning from misein, to hate. The second part is from anthropos, a human being, which we also have in words such as anthropology. From the same source, philanthropy is the opposite of misanthropy, literally a love of mankind that expresses itself in active efforts to help other people.

History and fiction record many misanthropes. The best-known fictional one is Alceste, in Molière’s comedy Le Misanthrope of 1666, which helped to popularise the word. The most famous real person was Timon, though strictly speaking we have to take the word of a couple of classical Greek writers that he actually existed. He is said to have lived in Athens in the fifth century BC and became known as Timon Misanthropos because he turned against people after he lost his fortune through being too generous to his friends and had to earn a living as an agricultural labourer. His story was taken up by William Shakespeare; around 1606, in collaboration with Thomas Middleton, he wrote what is probably his least popular play, Timon of Athens:

I am Misanthropos, and hate mankind, For thy part, I do wish thou wert a dog, That I might love thee something.

3. Wordface

Pedal power A reader’s comment attached to a Guardian story online attracted Bill Edmonds’s attention: on your bike. This was clearly intended in a literally dismissive sense of go away or clear off and he wondered where it came from. It’s British and dates — so far as anybody can tell — from the 1960s, though it might be as old as the Second World War (some connect it with the actor Jack Warner in the days before he became PC Dixon of Dock Green). It’s probably Cockney, often as on yer bike, rude but not obscene, a rephrasing of the older push off. On your bike become much more widely known in the 1980s following a speech at the Conservative Party Conference in 1981 by the then Employment Secretary, Norman Tebbit, in which he said that his father hadn’t rioted in the 1930s when unemployed, but had “got on his bike and looked for work”. It became a catch phrase urging somebody to get a move on or make an effort.

Chicken run Dennis Vandenberg used the expression Nobody here but us chickens but, when challenged, couldn’t explain where it came from. About a decade ago, an American phrase finder, Sam Clements, unearthed an example in a 1909 issue of the Daily Northwestern of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which showed it to be in origin a racist joke. A farmer, on hearing a noise in his chicken house, called out “who’s there?” to which came the reply, “Nobody here but us chickens, massa.” Another version appeared in Everybody’s Magazine the previous year with the punchline, “Deed, sah, day ain’t nobody hyah ’ceptin’ us chickens”. It must surely be even older. The expression was widely popularised by the 1946 number-one hit single, Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens, by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five.

Deadline time Barry Rein asked about a comment in the Economist of 6 March that Prime Minister David Cameron has been called the essay crisis prime minister for his tendency to take decisions at the last minute. It’s been applied to him a number of times, at least as early as the Independent on Sunday in October 2011: “He is an ‘essay crisis’ prime minister, best at make-or-break time”. The term has been around for decades among students faced with the panic-inducing realisation that carefree procrastination has left them needing to produce thousands of words of relevant prose in next to no time.

4. Brown Windsor soup

Subscriber David Procter recently alerted me to a curious culinary and linguistic conundrum.

Brown Windsor is a British soup that rarely appears on menus these days, though chefs such as Jamie Oliver have reinterpreted it for a new generation. Some recent books and foodie websites salute it as a grand old traditional dish which fuelled the nineteenth-century middle classes and sustained the British Empire. This is one:

This hearty soup was both nourishing and popular during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. In fact, Queen Victoria was fond of this soup, and it was often served at royal banquets.

The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, by Emily Ansara Baines, 2012.

The problem is that nobody has found any mention of brown Windsor soup before this:

After queuing for a quarter of an hour for a seat, he shared a table with a woman whose idea of a suitable four o’clock meal was brown Windsor soup followed by prunes and custard.

The Fancy, by Monica Dickens, 1943.

If it was so significant a dish, why isn’t it in published Victorian menus and why isn’t it mentioned in any cookery book or newspaper of the period?

The name brown Windsor soup may have been a mashup of several other terms. A Windsor soup is known from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and appeared on many menus, one classic recipe requiring chopped beef, veal and bacon. White Windsor soup also existed, a vegetable soup which a recipe of 1911 says was made from white stock, mashed potato and sago. Some writers have used Windsor soup for calves’ feet soup, a food for invalids said to have been served to Queen Victoria in childbed. A few very early recipes for Windsor soup say it should include Windsor beans, presumably the source of the name (despite one claim online, there’s no connection with the British royal family, which changed its name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor only in 1917). In Victorian times dinners might begin with a choice of brown or white soup, so named. The former was a meat soup whose recipes broadly match those of the meat form of Windsor soup.

The soap was still being sold in the 1950s.

Another possible constituent of the linguistic melange is the very similarly named brown Windsor soap. Its first appearance was in an advertisement in the Times in 1818 and it seems to have had an excellent reputation. It is said to have been a mixture of olive oil and ox suet, coloured with burnt sugar or umber. It’s possible that people could have unconsciously conflated brown soup and brown Windsor soap.

Alternatively, and more plausibly, the two names might have been put together to make a humorous put-down of an inferior version of brown soup during the austerity of the Second World War.

And I can remember — which of my generation can’t? — the particular culinary horrors of war: Woolton pie, composed of vegetables and sausage meat more crumb than sausage, and brown Windsor soup which tasted of gravy browning. ... Woolton pie and brown Windsor soup featured largely on the menu of the British Restaurants set up under the aegis of the Ministry of Food to provide inexpensive and healthy meals.

Time to be in Earnest, by P D James, 1999. Woolton Pie commemorates Lord Woolton, Minister of Food in 1940.

Whatever its origins, references to brown Windsor soup are common after World War Two, often in horrified descriptions of the then dreadful state of British cooking in pretentious restaurants and on trains and ferries. It became shorthand for awful food; comics only had to mention it to get a laugh.

But as we’ve seen, in some quarters brown Windsor soup is now held up as an example of excellent nineteenth-century British fare. To explain the change probably needs a culinary expert or a folklorist rather than an etymologist.

5. Sic!

• George Watson found this in the rules of the Twiggy competition in the 25 February issue of the British publication Women’s Weekly: “The winner will be selected at random from all correct entries received after the closing date.”

• We now know, via John Donlevy, that the Australian Spectator wrote on 8 March about a Friday night lock-in at a former pub in Melbourne: “If you wanted to get in after the doors were shut, all you had to do was throw pebbles at an upstairs widow from the car park next door.”

• Kate Schubart was also amused by a missing letter, in a column in the Washington Post on 10 March: “Half of the money will come from his fortune as a former hedge-fun manager.”

• In a piece of 6 March, Norman C Berns noted, the gossip site TMZ reported: “David told TMZ Live he got [Michael Jackson’s] dental impression from a Beverly Hills doctor that he got at an auction.”

• Acquisition fever knows no bounds, Lisa Robinton learned in the 18 December issue of an e-newsletter from “After being acquired by Google, the world was waiting to see what Motorola would come up with.”

6. Useful information

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