World Wide Words
Saturday 10 January 2015
Feedback, Notes and Comments
Horse creature. Mike Mellor and other New Zealanders mentioned that cattle beast is a common generic term in that country. John Park wrote “Along with two friends we have each just purchased a third of a ‘cattle beast’ to stock up our freezers for the festive season. This is an expression often used in New Zealand, more in the sense of meat from a bullock, rather than from a cow or bull.” And he added, “You get milk from cows, but beef comes from cattle beasts, which could be male, female, or somewhere in between.”
The usage isn’t limited to New Zealand. Leslie Lewis emailed, “Your item reminded me of the feeling of surprise I experienced when we moved to Bruce County, a largely agricultural part of Ontario, Canada. The local newspaper carried a notice about a lost cattle beast in a nearby township. Farmer friends told me this was the usual way of referring to what I would have called a cow when you didn’t want to specify the age or gender of the creature.”
Jos Mottershead sent a copy of the will of Jacob Fry of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, dated 25 January 1792, which includes the bequest, “all my horse Creatures, horn Creatures, and Farming utensils”. This isn’t at all unusual as a term for a bovine. This example is from a local ordinance and also contains a good example of the phrase of the [animal] kind:
That from and after the date hereof no person being the owner of or having the custody of any animal of the horse, sheep, or hog kind or of any horned creature, geese or turkey, shall permit or suffer the same to run at large upon any of the streets or other public grounds.
Horn beast and horned beast are also both occasionally recorded as terms for cattle. The Oxford English Dictionary has one example of the former, dated 1616, and it turns up in newspaper reports in subsequent centuries. One of 1837 looked forward to a time:
when no horned beasts or droves of sheep will be permitted to be driven through our great public thoroughfares.
Edwin Sundt noted that in the US “horse racing programs still list male horses as ‘horses’ to distinguish them from mares and fillies.” Lance Schulz commented, “This leads to the trick question ‘How many horses have won the Kentucky Derby?’. The answer is ‘None, the race has only been won by colts, geldings, and fillies’!”
Michel D’Edouard pointed out that English does have a singular term for cattle: ox. It’s one of the few words in modern English that retains an old Anglo-Saxon plural form, oxen. Ox to me has always implied a castrated bull used as a draught animal and the idea of placid strength is basic to its figurative senses. But the term does indeed at root mean, or has meant, a single bovine kept for meat, milk or hide. Ian Finn mentioned the much less well known neat, also Germanic in origin, which survives in neat’s-foot oil, made from boiled cow heel and used for dressing leather.
Phizzog. Several readers spotted a similarity between this term and the French (and English) word visage, which is from Latin visus, sight. Any resemblance is accidental, however, as the origin in physiognomy is too well established.
And lots of people reminded me of Phiz, the pen name of the cartoonist Hablot Knight Browne, whose illustrations are most closely associated with the works of Charles Dickens.
Back issues. Because several subscribers have mentioned how awkward the back issues on the Mailman mailing list server are to read, I’m slowly returning back issues to the World Wide Words site. It takes a while, as each issue has to be reformatted to match the recent redesign. So far, the issues from January 2011 to date are once again available. You will find an extra menu item on every page linking to an index.
This appears quite often in modern collections of exotic and unfamiliar words. It’s certainly both. It’s monstrous, 31 letters long (to save electrons and my typing fingers, let’s call it E31 from now on), longer even than the most-quoted example, antidisestablishmentarianism, though out-lettered by the delightful supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and the fictitious pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis . Who could possibly have created E31, and having done so, dared to present such an unpronounceable horror before the public?
So far as I can discover, it has never appeared anywhere in print as a serious word. We know about it solely because of the American folklorist Louise Pound. She was born in Nebraska in 1872 and was a professor of English at the University of Nebraska for most of her adult life. In 1911 and 1916 she contributed three word lists to the journal Dialect Notes that she had collected from students at the university.
These included cackleberries for eggs, discumgalligumfricated, greatly astonished but pleased, hiptiminigy, a cry that expressed exuberance of spirit, optriculum, something whose name one can’t remember for the moment, and ramsasspatorious, excited, anxious, impatient. The list also contains E31, defined as “extra good or fine” and noted as having been brought from western Oregon by the unnamed person who contributed it.
Dr Stephen Chrisomalis, of The Phrontistery and , wrote about it a year ago and pointed out that the list has two other relevant words: hypoppercanorious and flippercanorious, both with the same sense of something very good. The first is E31 without the eellogofusciou at the front; all three have canorious at the end, though spelled differently in E31. Hypoppercanorious was said to be in use also in Massachusetts. The very similar hippocanarious was recorded in 1949 in a word list from west Texas, though that was said to mean unmanageable or high-spirited.
Such tantalising hints suggest that these words — and perhaps others similar to them — had been in slangy usage across the US in the first half of the twentieth century. We may guess at the pleasure that students took in creating and using these exaggerated and unfamiliar words as part of the long US tradition of generating and flourishing grandiloquent words such as absquatulate, hornswoggle , sockdolager, and skedaddle .
Q. From Susan England: While discussing the difficulty my husband and I have with modern electronics, he described us both as old fogies, which got me to thinking about the origin of that term.
A. I do hope his use of this unflattering epithet was humorous. An old fogey is a person of advanced years — or seems so to the person doing the describing — who holds on to attitudes that they learned when they were young and rejects new things, so appearing old-fashioned, behind the times and past it.
There’s nothing new about old fogey. It was first recorded by Francis Grose in his Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1785. He said that old fogey, and fogey by itself, was a nickname for an invalid soldier.
Others later suggested it was also used for a garrison soldier, one too old or infirm for active service, who was often sent out to get new recruits. The only real-life example I can find is this, in a report of one such from Carrickfergus in northern Ireland:
During the last week, a recruiting party of the Old Fogies had decoyed a number of young lads, by means of intoxication, &c. at which the friends and comrades of the deluded recruits were exceedingly displeased and disgusted.
Other early examples focus on old age and out-of-touchness:
Well, here I am, on the eve, or rather on the day, of visiting a rich old fogey of an uncle, who has not been in London for these forty years.
It became common in the 1860s and has remained in use ever since, though the last half century has seen a falling off in its popularity. On occasion, it has been compared and contrasted with a young fogey, a youngish person with notably conservative tastes and attitudes.
We call them old fogies; but there are young fogies, too. Old fogyism begins at a younger age than we think. I am almost afraid to say so, but I believe that in the majority of human beings it begins at about twenty-five.
Young fogey became popular quite suddenly in Britain in the early 1980s, during Margaret Thatcher’s first period in office, referring to a particular brand of young conservative who aped the clothes, opinions and manners of their seniors. It’s still around, though the fashion for the term and the type have both passed.
Were there ever fogies, not particularised as old? Francis Grose hints so in his dictionary but a systematic search finds nothing.
Enquiries about its origins leave us uncertain. Grose suggested that it came from the French fougueux, fierce or fiery, which doesn’t fit the sense at all. Modern dictionaries prefer foggy, a Scots dialectal word meaning moss-grown or decrepit. It could also mean damp or boggy and it’s the source of fog for a coarse grass growing in damp or boggy conditions and also fog for the type of weather. Foggy is also recorded from the sixteenth century for a person who was, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, “unwholesomely bloated, swollen with flabby and unhealthy corpulence”. Some dictionaries mention fogram, a superannuated person or an old fuddy-duddy, which appeared a few years before old fogey. From its date, form and meaning it must be connected in some way, but nobody knows how.
One other suggestion which appears in some books and also online argues that old fogey is from the one-time American armed forces slang fogy for a long-service pay increase. Fogy was first noted by Lewis R Hamersly in his Naval Encyclopaedia of 1881 and by De Witt Clinton Fall in Army and Navy Information of 1917; it remained in active use in the services until after the Second World War. But its dating is enough to show that it can’t possibly be the source of old fogey.
Matt Dallett found a headline with an accidental double meaning in a Bloomberg report on Yahoo News on 28 December: “Grandfather’s Illness Saves Family From Missing AirAsia Flight.”
And what are we to make of “Ancient Ships Found in Turkey With Human Heads”? John Pearlman found that headline the same day on Newser.
The headline on the People site of 24 December, “Scientist in Atlanta May Have Contradicted Ebola”, has since been corrected, though it was copied unchanged to several other sites, including that of the Chicago Sun-Times. Thanks to Helen le Vann for submitting it.
A news story in the Dominion Post of New Zealand on 24 December about the return of three agents to Cuba commented on “The joyful but puzzling news that one of their wives is expecting just two weeks from now.” Suzy Thaman saw that the headline attempted to explain the mystery: “Wife of returned Cuba agent expecting, thanks to US senator’s help”.
A news story on the BBC site of 29 December about the return of a plane with faulty landing gear to Gatwick and the filming of the incident by a passenger, reported, “Hardeek Desai captured the moment fuel was jettisoned to re-balance the aircraft and emergency vehicles on the runway.”
A feature on Jacqueline Bisset in the Sunday Times Magazine of 28 December included this: “The last big [relationship] was with Emin Boztepe, a marital-arts expert. We were together 14 years and split in 2008.” Hilary Hicklin wondered how much of an expert that made him.