Marvel/DC Comic Mashups – WIF Graphic Novels

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Marvel-DC Mashups

from contributor 

What would happen if you took elements of two famous comic book characters, one from Marvel and one from DC, and mixed them together? Would the two powers complement each other and make the hero better? Or would having two powers be a hindrance to the character? Well, we wondered the same thing, so we had several artists develop mashup characters using characters from the two dominant comic book universes, the Marvel Universe and the DC Universe. Now we want to know which ones you like the best; please vote up for your favorites and down for ones you don’t like. Also, in the comments below, please feel free to share any ideas you have for Marvel-DC mashups that we don’t have on the list.

1. Captain Bat

 The mashup of two characters that both have an unbeatable, indomitable will is a nice character trait. But think about this, Batman uses the bat to instill fear and the Captain America uses the American flag for inspiration. Together they inspire fear like no one else.
Illustrated by Doubleleaf.

2. FlasHulk

 The Flash & The Hulk may not come to mind as good combination superhero, but super-speed and super-strength actually make him…um, Superman….if he couldn’t fly and was green and had anger management issues. Sounds like a good guy to have at parties, “Flash smash fast!”
Illustrated by Doubleleaf.

3. Wonder Phoenix

 The mashup of two powerful super-heroines, Wonder Woman and Phoenix (Jean Grey) is a natural combo of two heroes with great hair. An Amazon combined with the Phoenix Force would be a hot date unless you are blue-haired, asparagus-looking aliens.
Illustrated by Rick Marin.

 4. Iron Robin

Even I’m not sure how I came up with Iron Man and Robin as a good mashup. Maybe I was going for a mashup that really makes no sense. They are such opposites. Metal armor vs. tights. Solo hero vs. sidekick. Cool name vs. bird name. Playboy vs. just a boy. I better stop, Robin might be reading this and the differences are quite depressing from his point of view.
Illustrated by Felle.

 5. Captain Crawler

 Blending Nightcrawler’s distinctive features with the wholesome good looks of DC’s Captain Marvel (Shazam) gives us a dashing guy in a hoodie who can teleport and stand toe-to-toe with Superman. Does he remind anyone of Ezio Auditore da Firenze from Assassin’s Creed? Yeah, me too.
Illustrated by Doubleleaf.

 6. CyThing

 Two loveable, but sometimes brooding characters who would rather have the body they were born with rather than the body fate gave them. The Thing and Cyborg are more alike than either probably realized, so better to mash them up into CyThing! The Thing would be even more badass with a cannon for an arm, yes?
Illustrated by Rick Marin.

 7. Thor Hawk

Two guys that swing a deadly, blunt instrument, a hammer for Thor and a mace for Hawkman. Seems like a good mashup of beings from other worlds who came to defend earth or Midgard.
Illustrated by Kelly Ishikawa.

 8. Green Wolverine

(Green Claw?)

 Mashing up a blood thirsty killer turned hero and a hero who went insane probably isn’t a good combination for mental stability, but you know he will keep it interesting at the JLA or X-Mansion. You must admit that having claws made out of green energy is pretty cool.
Illustrated by Doubleleaf.

 9. Aquadevil

 Daredevil, the Man Without Fear combined with Aquaman, the King of the Seven Seas is a typical fish out of water story mashup. Doesn’t ol’ hornhead need buildings to bound from? Well, at least he has something to throw, and this “billy club” has dangerous barbs. They both share a sonar capability for navigating dark waters.
Illustrated by Doubleleaf.

 10. Amazing Super-Spider

Red and blue superhero costumes never looked better than when worn by Spider-man and Superman. Mashing up Marvel and DC founding superheroes, who seem to be just a bit more of a hero than anyone else, just feels right. And who didn’t want to see Spider-man in a cape with webbing and Superman shooting webs, even though the webs are redundant when he can fly?
Illustrated by Rick Marin.

Marvel-DC Comic Mashups

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– WIF Graphic Novels

Top 10 Best Sellers – WIF Bookshelf

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Best Selling Novels

of All-Time

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Since these are the bestselling novels of all time, you will not find any non-fiction, religious, or political books, like The Holy Quran, The King James Bible, and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. If we were to include them, they would be the top three in the order that they are listed.

 We chose to exclude those books because people had a spiritual or political reason to buy them. Would these books have become mega bestsellers without religious or political pressure? Who knows, but it is a major influential factor, so they have been left off the list.

nstead, these are all fictional stories that were written by a single person who sprung the idea from their head.

10. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: 80+ Million

On this list, you will find some of the greatest books that showcase some of the most esteemed authors to ever live. And then there’s The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. This book that has its own Wikipedia page dedicated solely to people’s criticism of it, ranging from its historical and religious inaccuracies to its poor literary quality. Despite this, some people must have liked it because 80 million copies have been sold since it was published in 2003, and the series it’s a part of has inspired not one, but three disappointing movies from Tom Hanks and Ron Howard.

The book starts off with a murder in the Louvre in Paris, and Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is called to the scene because the victim, the curator of the museum, wrote a coded message in blood. Soon, Langdon and cryptologist Sophie Neveu Abraham are following clues to uncover a secret that has been protected for over 2,000 years. Since there are 80 million copies out there, then there is probably a good chance you know that the secret is Jesus Christ had children with Mary Magdalene. If you didn’t, well, at least now you don’t have to read The Da Vinci Code and you can pick a better book to spend your time reading.

9. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: 85+ Million

Irish-born Clive Staples Lewis went to Oxford University and specialized in literature and philosophy. After school, he was given a teaching position with Magdalen College, which is a part of Oxford. While there, he joined the literary discussion group, the Inklings, which included another author on this list, who wrote the book in our #6 spot.

Lewis was a prolific writer, but he is best known today for his seven-book series The Chronicles of Narnia. The most famous book and introduction to the series, and the bestselling book of the series, is The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which was published in 1950.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe takes place in 1940 and tells the tale of four English siblings who are sent to the English countryside because of the Blitz. While there, they discover a magical wardrobe that is a gateway to another world, Narnia, which is full of talking animals and magical creatures. When the children arrive, the world is in perpetual winter because the White Witch has cast a spell to keep Narnia frozen. To help their friends in Narnia, the children must work together to defeat the White Witch and break her spell.

At first, the critics didn’t love The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but readers did. It’s estimated that over 100 million copies of it have been sold. The other books in the series were also bestsellers, but none of them reached the levels of the first book.

8. Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin: 100+ Million

One of China’s greatest novels is Dream of the Red Chamber, or The Story of the Stone, which was written by Cao Xueqin, a writer and painter who was homeless and drank too much. He wrote the book in chapters during the 1750s and he exchanged the chapters with friends and family, often for food or some wine. He died in his 40s in 1763.

A collection of the chapters formed into a novel wasn’t published until 1791. However, even today, it is debated what the true version of the story is. There have been alternate endings that have survived and even completely different manuscripts have popped up. Today, there is an academic field solely dedicated to studying the variations of Dream of the Red Chamber called “Redology.”

Often compared to Gone With the Wind, Dream of the Red Chamber is a sprawling saga about the decline of a wealthy family and it is full of astute observations about life in 18th century China. It’s a massive book, the English edition is over 2,500 pages long, and there are over 400 characters and several different story lines. One of the most famous storylines involves a man named Jia Baoyu, who is in love with one of his cousins, but he is forced to marry a different cousin and this leads to a terrible tragedy.

The book was a massive hit in China, especially after a TV version was released in 1987, and it is believed that over 100 million copies of the book have been sold.

7. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: 100+ Million

Arguably the most famous crime writer of all time is Agatha Christie, who is also considered the bestselling author to ever live. In total, she wrote 66 novels and 14 short story collections and she supposedly sold 200 billion of them; which is 28 books for every single person on Earth. Her bestselling novel of all time is And Then There Were None, which has a plot line that is so famous that you’ve probably seen dozens of variations of it in movies and television shows.

In the book (which had a really, really unfortunate original title), 10 strangers are lured to an island under false pretenses. The only thing that all of them have in common is that they were all somehow involved in the death of another person, but managed to avoid punishment. Then at dinner, they are accused of their crimes and told that throughout the night, they would be killed one-by-one. Sure enough, the characters start to die in a manner that resembles the lines in the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians,” which is where the novel gets its name, because the last line of the rhyme is “And then there were none.” The killer and how they performed the murders is then revealed in a post script.

The book, which is considered to be Christie’s masterpiece, has sold over 100 million copies to date.

6. The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien: 100+ Million

While he was a professor of linguistics at Oxford University, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was grading some papers when he suddenly wrote a line about a creature called “a hobbit.” From that line grew the book The Hobbit, which was published in 1937. At first,The Hobbit was considered a children’s book. However, that view continued to evolve with the publication of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1954 and 1955 and this expanded its audience.

The Hobbit has never been out of print and got a resurgence when the Peter JacksonTolkien movies were released. In total, it’s estimated that over 100 million copies of The Hobbit have been sold.

Of course, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is also a mega-bestseller. According to Forbes, over 150 million copies of the trilogy, which includes single books and all three in a single collection, have been sold.

5. Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: 107+ Million

The story of Joanne Rowling, better known as J.K., is almost as Cinderella-esque as the protagonist of her blockbuster franchise, Harry Potter. Rowling was a single mother living on welfare in Edinburgh, Scotland, and she typed the original manuscript on a typewriter; meaning that if she changed one paragraph, she had to change anything that followed it. When she finished the manuscript in 1995, she looked around for a publisher, but was rejected by a dozen of them. One of the big problems with The Philosopher’s Stone (which is called The Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States) is that it was twice as long as the average children’s novel.

The winds of fate changed for Rowling when the chairman of a small publishing house called Bloomsbury let his 8-year-old niece, Alice, read the first chapter of the book. After she did, she demanded that he give her the rest of the book. Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book and gave Rowling a $2,400 advance. They also told her to get a day job because people didn’t make a living from writing children’s books.

Today, Rowling is worth about $910 million (she was a billionaire, but dropped off of Forbes billionaire list in 2012, because of charitable donations and Britain’s high tax rates), and it all stemmed from that book that couldn’t find a publisher and no one thought would be successful. That first book in the series has sold over 107 million copies as of 2010.

The rest of the books in the Harry Potter series were also smash hits and it is considered the biggest book franchise of all time. As of 2013, before the release of The Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, there were 450 million Harry Potter books in print.

4. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: 140+ Million

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a French aristocrat, writer, and pilot. After the Fall of France, Saint-Exupéry went into exile and ended up in New York City, where he continued to write. In the second half of 1942, he wrote and illustrated his magnum opus, The Little Prince. The novella was published in 1943 in North America, even though it was originally written in French because Saint-Exupéry spoke English poorly. It wouldn’t be published in France until 1946, an event that Saint-Exupéry wouldn’t live to see. In 1943, he joined the Free French Air Force and in 1944, he disappeared while doing a reconnaissance mission over Germany. His ID bracelet was found 50 years later in a fisherman’s net off the coast of Marseilles, but his body has never been found.

The Little Prince looks like a children’s book, but it actually has a lot of keen observations and insights regarding human nature and relationships. The book is about a pilot who crashes in the Sahara desert and meets a young boy with curly blond hair. The boy tells the pilot that he’s a prince that fell from a small planet called Asteroid 325, however on Earth we call it Asteroid B-612. The Prince left his home after he fell in love with a rose and he caught her in a lie, so he is traveling across the universe to cure his loneliness.

While the story and the pictures are a bit simplistic, the complexity of the emotional impact has resonated with readers for decades. It has been translated into 250 languages and two million copies are sold every year. Altogether, it’s estimated that 140 million copies of The Little Prince has been sold since 1943.

3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: 150+ Million

Famed Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho’s beloved novel The Alchemist was published in 1988, and it is about Santiago, a young Spanish boy who has a dream that urges him to go to Egypt. Before he sets out, he learns about the Personal Legend, which is something that someone always wanted to do with their life. If someone decides to follow their own Personal Legend, then the universe will try to help them. And the universe is a very powerful ally. If the universe will bend to help a person on their Personal Legend, then it’s possible to do the impossible, like alchemy, which is the process of turning lead into gold.

The book and its message of following one’s dreams has made it a favorite of many famous people. Pharrell Williams gets choked up when he talks about the book, whileWill Smith thinks of himself as a metaphorical alchemist. If you know anything about Oprah, you shouldn’t be surprised that Oprah loves it. She suggested it to Madonna, who said that it was life changing.

Of course, non-famous people also love The Alchemist as well, quite a few of them in fact. In under 30-years, 150 million copies of The Alchemist have been sold.

2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: 200+ Million

Charles Dickens was born into a poor family in England in 1812. When he was just 12-years-old, his dad was put into prison over debt and Dickens had to drop out and work in a run-down factory labeling cans. He was able to go back to school when he was 15, but only for a short time before he was forced to drop out again to work as an office boy to help out his family. A year later, Dickens started working as a freelance reporter. He also became a notable cartoonist who published under the name Boz. His work as a writer and cartoonist eventually led to his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, which was published in 1837.

22-years later, Dickens’ published the book that would go on to be his bestselling and arguably his greatest piece of work, A Tale a Two Cities. The book takes place before and during the French Revolution and is set both in England and France. It follows over a dozen characters, both peasants and aristocrats. It’s a rich and complex book that has been a bestseller since it was published in weekly installments from April 30 to November 29, 1859.

While it is impossible to figure out the exact number of copies that have been sold in the 150 years since it was released, most estimates put the sales figure at around 200 million copies.

1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: 500+ million

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote does have a huge advantage over the other books on this list; mainly it’s centuries older than all of them.

Don Quixote is considered the first modern novel and was published in 1605. It follows the adventures of Alonso Quixano, an elderly man who lives in La Mancha, Spain. As he loses his sanity, he reads books about chivalry and decides to become a knight. He declares himself Don Quixote de La Mancha and sets out on his old horse, Rocinante, with his loyal assistant at his side, Sancho Panza, to right wrongs and dish out justice. However, nothing goes right from the start and he gets into a bunch of hilarious adventures.

The book was an instant hit when it was released and it was reprinted six times in its first year, but Cervantes didn’t profit much from it and died poor in 1616. After his death, the popularity of the novel continued to flourish and the book is still popular today. In 2005, which was the 400th anniversary of the original publication, 10 publishing houses released a version of the book. One version from the Royal Spanish Academy sold out their entire stock of 600,000 copies in two months in Spain and Latin America.

To get an estimate of how many copies of Don Quixote have been sold since 1605, the website Lovereading.co.uk, calculated how many editions and how many translations classic novels have gone through. By their estimates, Don Quixote has been translated into 25 languages and there have been 963 editions, which calculates to over 500 million copies.


 Top 10 Best Sellers

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– WIF Bookshelf

Nightmarish Christmas Characters – WIF Around the World

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Nightmarish

Holiday Characters

from Around the World

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With the holiday season around the corner, we thought we would share our favorite holiday characters … with a twist. For centuries, adults have been attempting to shape the behavior of children. Some methods have been proved to be harsher than others, and have been abandoned in modern times. Other methods have simply been altered or changed to put an acceptable face on a medieval nightmare. The characters that we have chosen to share with you aren’t Santa Claus, Rudolph or Jack Frost. Here are 10 terrifying bits of holiday folklore to keep your kids in line…

10. The Whipfather, Assistant to Saint Nick

whipfather

Country of Origin: France

Courtesy of the French, we have the legend of “The Whipfather,” Santa’s Child-Murdering Assistant. Folklore tells us the Whipfather was a desperate, broke innkeeper. One day, he met three young boys from wealthy families. The Whipfather then decided to slits their throats and chop the boys to bits, throwing the pieces into a barrel of brine (salt water). Hoping to further his profit on a slaughtered pig already stewing in the brine, the Whipfather was stopped by – you guessed it – ol’ Saint Nick. Santa is aware that the Whipfather has been overtaken by avarice and murdered the three young boys.

Of course, Santa being Santa, he restores the boys’ lives and binds the Whipfather to an eternity of servitude. The Whipfather is usually dressed in dark clothing and wears a length of rope or chain with unkempt hair and a long beard and a sinister scowl. Despite his fading relevance, children are still warned against getting on his bad side or else find themselves visited by the Whipfather, who leave coal or painful red marks on a child’s bottom. Like all children’s tales the French certainly had a message they wanted to impart to children: don’t succumb to greed.

9. Teke-Teke

teketeke

Country of Origin: Japan

Not exactly a Christmas tale, but a foreboding folktale to scare children nonetheless. Suicide is highly prevalent in Japanese culture, coming from its historical function asan honorable death as opposed to failure or inevitable death on the battlefield. The theme has also extended to its urban legends. According to legend, Teke-Teke was a woman or young school girl, who either jumped or fell in the path of an oncoming subway train and was severed in half. Her horrible death gave rise to the myth of “Teke-Teke,” a woman filled with so much anger and pain that she roams throughout Japan in the form of a torso, dragging herself along with her claw-like hands. The origin of the name comes from the sound she makes while moving: “teke-teke-teke,” as she scrapes the ground and uses her elbows to chase after her victims.

When parents tell their children of Teke-Teke, it always begins with a young man or woman staying out past curfew. They see a beautiful young school girl standing by a windowsill; smiles are exchanged. Suddenly, the girl she jumps out of the window and reveals she is nothing but a torso. The young man or girl tries to get away, but it’s too late… Teke-Teke has produced a scythe, and has cut the child in half. Seems like a bit of an overreaction for staying out past dusk, but that’s just us.

8. Split Mouth Woman (Kuchisake-Onna)

splitmouth

Country of origin: Japan

A perfect character for our readers who would like to go with a little something extra for Halloween is the Split Mouth Woman. Another tale that warns children of traveling the streets at night while unaccompanied has even scarier repercussions. The legend of Kuchisake-Onna deems that a child walking alone may happen upon a tall, female figure in a trench-coat. She will have long, black hair with a surgical mask covering the bottom half of her face. A self-conscious woman, Kuchisake-Onna will ask the child if they think she is beautiful. Unfortunately for Japanese children there is no right answer.

If you reply “No,” a quick and grotesque death awaits you, as she will produce a pair of large scissors and remove your head. An answer of “yes” will lead to Kuschisake-Onna removing her mask and revealing her grotesque and mutilated face. Her smile sliced from ear to ear – she will ask again, “Am I beautiful?” For some reason, if you still answer in the affirmative, she will chase you down and slice you in half anyway. Same goes for if you reply, “no.” It seems the only escape is to be ambivalent and in her confusion, run away to safety.

7. Krampus

krampus

Country of Origin: Austria

Getting back into the Christmas spirit, we must introduce Krampus, probably one of the more well-known figures on our list. Krampus’s exact origin is unknown, but he is said to have come from pagan traditions. His physical characteristics would bear this out. Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as “half-goat, half-demon” who punishes children who misbehave. Krampus is also hairy and has cloven hooves. His appearance is similar to the devil with his dark fangs, to boot.

The creation of Krampus might have been analogous to the advent of Christianity, with scholars arguing that his possession of chains, symbolizes the binding of the Devil by the Christian Church.

A direct foil to Santa Claus, Krampus is the stick to Santa’s carrot in shaping children’s behavior. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria, with men dressed in costumes walking the streets, looking to dole out punishment. Injuries have led to each Krampus being given an identification number to document any overly violent behavior. The Krampus tradition is spreading with more cities in Europe having parades to celebrate the half-goat, half-demon.

It is astonishing that the parades, which took place for generations in the Tyrol Region, have even managed to travel to the United States, with parties and parades taking place in Los Angeles. Goes to show you that good news travels fast.

6. Jólakötturinn

yule-cat

Country of Origin: Iceland

One of the most unique characters of folklore on our list is the Icelandic Yule Cat, or the Christmas Cat. Made to strike fear in the hearts of children and workers alike – legend has it that the Icelandic cat will eat all children and workers who did not finish their work on time. However, children who do finish their tasks will be rewarded with new clothes. Some parents even took it a step further, saying that Jólakötturinn would target lazy children. If children worked hard they would have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas. The lazy children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat.

Researchers believe the origins of the Yule Cat can be traced back to medieval times when land owners would pressure farmers to finish processing their wool before Christmas. The ones who finished their work would be rewarded with new clothing, while the others would be devoured by a monstrous cat. While we don’t necessarily have a monstrous cat threatening us to be efficient producers, unemployment and loss of healthcare has done the trick.

5. Belsnickel

belsnickel

Country of Origin: Germany

Our first character from Germany, Belsnickel’s name is derivative of Saint Nicholas.Belzen is German for ‘to wallop’ or ‘to drub,’ while Nickel is a pet name for Nicholas. As his name would suggest, Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. He wears tattered old clothing and raggedy fur, and in some traditions, also has a mask. The tradition of Belsnickel made its way to the United States in the 19th century when German immigrants immigrated to the Pennsylvania area (you may recall Dwight Schrute dressing as Belsnickel in one episode of The Office).

In that small American community the traditional Belsnickel lived in, he showed up at houses 1-2 weeks before Christmas, scaring the children because he somehow knew exactly which of them misbehaved. Belsnickel would rap on the door or window with his switch and often the children would have to answer a question for him or sing some type of song. Well-behaved children, or those who would answer the question or sing a song, would be given candies. The other children were not so lucky: if they moved too quickly for the treats, they would get struck with Belsnickel’s switch. In modern times, the switch has been adapted to only be used as a noise generated device, and the legend of Belsnickel lives on.

4. Hans Trapp

hanstrapp

Country of Origin: France

The legend of Hans Trapp comes from Alsace and Lorraine. The antithesis of Santa Claus, Hans Trapp delivers beatings to naughty children while Santa, on his worst day, delivers coal. According to legend, Trapp was, in fact, a real man who was profoundly evil. Rich, greedy, and a worshipper of Satan, Trapp was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Trapp was forced into exile and he fled into the forest. In his isolation, Trapp was driven mad and developed an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

He eventually began to prey upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. In one particularly ghastly case, he was about to begin feasting on a young boy he’d just slaughtered when suddenly, God struck him down with a lightning bolt, killing him. The frightening figure is still a part of French tradition, where he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

3. The Jólasveinar

jolasveinar

Country of Origin: Iceland

Another example of traditions being merged or shaped as time passes is the changed identity of the Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads. In their inception, they were 13 Icelandic trolls, who each had their own name and personality. The trolls’ activities ranged greatly, from leaving gifts to rotting potatoes, with some even described as homicidal murders who ate children. Generally, they were known as pranksters that stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime. The Yule Lads were used to scare children into behaving, just like the Yule Cat.

As time passed and cultures became intertwined, the benign Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus) rubbed off on the Icelandic traditions. Finally, in the 20th century, the formerly devilish Jólasveinar changed its ways and began leaving gifts more frequently. It eventually shed its medieval appearance and is now characterized in the simple costume worn by traditional Santa Claus.

2. Frau Perchta

perchta

Country of Origin: Germany or Austria

During medieval times, fear of a witch could be a very effective way to instill fear into a group of people. And Frau Perchta was a particularly frightening witch. According to German and Austrian tales, Perchta was generous in her rewards to the faithful and kind, but ruthless with the wicked. Very much a Christmas tradition, Perchta would visit homes during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). Children and even adults feared her gruesome punishment of the sinful, “rip(ing) out internal organs and replac(ing) them with garbage.”

Described as a tall, powerfully built woman, Perchata is thought to have been a goddess during Pagan times but transformed to a slovenly witch during the advent of Christianity. As German society progressed, Perchta began to be used more and more to punish and scare peasant women who became involved in the growing textile industry. During that period, “lazy” girls and women would be visited by Perchta … so they best finish their garments!

1. Cuco

cuco

Country of Origin: Portugal

“Sleep little child, sleep now, or the Cuco will come and eat you.” It’s hard to imagine that a child would not have nightmares after that lullaby. The myth of the Cuco originated in Portugal and Galicia with etymology deriving from the Galician and Portuguese côco: a ghost with a pumpkin head. The Cuco is a child eater and a kidnapper; in some instances, it will simply devour the child, leaving no trace, or it may steal the child away to a place of no return. The caveat of course being that it only bestows this punishment on disobedient children.

 Similar to Santa Claus, the Cuco uses the roof… only for more nefarious activities. It is on the lookout for a child’s misbehavior and can morph into the shape of any dark shadow so it can stay watching. The Cuco is supposed to represent the opposite of the guardian angel and is frequently compared to the devil.

Nightmarish Christmas Characters –

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WIF Around the World

World Wide Words Issue 931 – WIF Style

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World Wide Words

Issue 931

letter-to-editor

Not my pigeon

Q From Helen Mosback: I have just read a serialised version of John Rowland’s Calamity in Kent. It includes this: “In fact, it’s your pigeon, as they say in the civil service.” I was wondering if you could shed any light on the expression it’s your pigeon? I have to admit to being quite taken by the Polish expression not my circus, not my monkeys to indicate that something is not one’s problem, and would be very happy should I have found an equally enchanting English expression!pigeon_png_clipart-671

A Readers may not be familiar with John Rowland, a little-known and neglected British detective-story writer who published Calamity in Kent in 1950. The British Library has republished it this year in its Crime Classics series.

The date of his book is significant, since at that time the expression was more familiar to people in the countries of what is now the Commonwealth than it is now. It had come into the language around the end of the nineteenth century.

The idiom suggests something is the speaker’s interest, concern, area of expertise or responsibility. This is a recent British example:

If posh people aren’t your pigeon, the correspondence on display in this book will be a massive bore and irritation.
The Times, 8 Oct. 2016.

It also turns up in the negative in phrases such as “that’s not my pigeon”, denying involvement or responsibility in some matter.

Despite your analogy with the Polish expression, the pigeon here isn’t the animal. It’s a variant form of pidgin. The name is said to derive from a Chinese attempt to say the word business; the original pidgin, Pidgin English, was a trade jargon that arose from the seventeenth century onwards between British and Chinese merchants in ports such as Canton. The word pidgin is recorded from the 1840s and has become the usual linguistic term for any simplified contact language that allows groups that don’t have a language in common to communicate.

This is an early example of pidgin being used in the figurative sense:

We agreed that if anything went wrong with the pony after, it was not to be my “pidgin.”
The North-China Herald (Shanghai), 1 Aug. 1890.

Most early examples in English writing were spelled that way, though by the 1920s the pigeon form was being used by people who didn’t make the connection with the trade language.

Subnivean

Classical scholars will spot the wintry associations of this word; it derives from Latin nix for snow, which becomes niv- in compounds such as nivālis, snowy or snow-covered. Etymologists point out that the English snow and the Latin nix both ultimately derive from the same ancient Indo-European root. But then humans in Europe have long had plenty of experience of the white stuff.

About four centuries ago, English scholars borrowed nivālis to make the adjective nival to add to our snowy (though French got there first, at least a century earlier). We also have the more recent technical term nivation, not — as you might guess — meaning snowfall but the erosion of ground around and beneath a snow bank that is seasonally melting.

Subnivean is another member of the group, nearly two centuries old. This refers to something that happens underneath snow such as the activities of animals that survive winter beneath it.

Very recently that word has been joined by the linked noun subnivium for the area between soil surface and snowpack. It was coined by a group led by Jonathan Pauli of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They wrote in a paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment in June 2013: “For many terrestrial organisms in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is a period of resource scarcity and energy deficits, survivable only because a seasonal refugium — the ‘subnivium’ — exists beneath the snow.”

Black as Newgate knocker

Q From Jim Mitchell: As a child in South London, when I came in from playing and was a bit grubby my mother would say I looked as black as nookers nocker. My mother was born in 1917. I wonder if she might have heard this expression from her mother?

A It’s very probable. But not perhaps in that form. Your mother’s version is a mishearing of a Londoners’ expression that dates back in written records to 1881: black as Newgate knocker. It has also turned up in the forms black as Newker’s knocker, black as Nook’s knocker and black as Nugent’s knocker.

Curiously, though it has been in existence for more than a century and is currently not widely known, in writing it is now more often found than it has ever been, perhaps because it’s such an evocative item of historical Cockney slang. These days it almost always has an added apostrophe-s:

Her eyes really are black as Newgate’s knocker.
Sunday Times, 19 Jun. 1994.

Image result for black as Newgate’s knocker

Newgate Exercise yard, 1872 by Gustave Doré

Newgate here refers to the notorious prison, originally created in medieval times in one of the turrets of Newgate, a main entrance through the walls into the City of London. Down the centuries the prison was rebuilt five times; it closed in 1902 and was demolished in 1904. The Central Criminal Court, better known as the Old Bailey, now stands on the site.

Newgate was a place of fear and loathing to many Londoners, not only criminals but also debtors, who were imprisoned there until they found a way to repay what they owed. After 1783, it was also the place where executions took place, initially on a public platform in front of the building, later inside. For most of its existence it was a noisome, dank, dark and unhealthy place to be incarcerated.

It’s not surprising that it should have been commemorated in expressions. But why not just black as Newgate? Why should its door knocker be selected as the source of the simile?

The phrase Newgate knocker itself is older. It was applied to a hairstyle fashionable among lower-class male Londoners such as costermongers. Though it became widely known from the 1840s, I’ve found a reference to it in the Kentish Gazette in 1781. It referred to a lock of hair twisted from the temple on each side of the head back towards the ear in the shape of a figure 6.

In 1851, Henry Mayhew wrote in his London Labour and the London Poor that a lad of about fourteen had told him that to be “flash” (stylish) hair “ought to be long in front, and done in ‘figure-six’ curls, or twisted back to the ear ‘Newgate knocker style’.” Eight years later, John Camden Hotten explained in his Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words that “The shape is supposed to resemble the knocker on the prisoners’ door at Newgate — a resemblance that carries a rather unpleasant suggestion to the wearer.” Another description came a couple of years later from another investigative social journalist, James Greenwood:

knockerAll, or nearly all, [were] bull-necked, heavy-jawed, and with the hair dressed after a fashion known among its patrons as the “Newgate knocker” style — that is, parted in masses on each side of the head and turned under unnaturally.
Illustrated Times (London), 16 Feb. 1861.

There’s no obvious connection with the colour black. We may guess, however, that Londoners would have imagined the prison’s knocker to be large and made of black iron as well as figuratively black because of its evil associations. We may also guess from the dates at which the two expressions were first current that Londoners took over the hairstyle phrase as a new way to describe the colour, as people have done for centuries with similes such as black as your hat, black as death, black as the ace of spades, black as thunder, and black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat.

As a postscript, I also found this, in a story from 60-odd years ago about the search by a journalist named Bernard O’Donnell for the original Newgate knocker:

His spasmodic search came to an end recently when he was in the office of the Keeper of the Old Bailey, Mr A W Burt. “Where is Newgate’s knocker?” he asked Mr Burt. Promptly it was shown to him. It was on the keeper’s desk. After years spent as a symbol which came to inspire dread among the poor of London, it had found a more useful rôle. It now makes an ideal paper weight.
The Scotsman, 24 April 1950.

Make of that what you will. I wonder if it still exists?

In the news

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Oxford Dictionaries announced its Word of the Year 2016 on 16 November: post-truth. Its editors defined this as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” One example came in a report in The Times on 31 October of comments by the president of the European Council on the signing of a trade deal with Canada:

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“Mr Tusk also denounced the ‘post-truth politics … on both sides of the Atlantic’ which nearly scuppered the deal because ‘facts and figures won’t stand up for themselves’ against an emotional opposition campaign.” Though it has been very much a word of this year, connected both with the Brexit referendum in the UK and the US presidential election, Oxford Dictionaries noted that “post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine.”

Last time I mentioned the Danish word hygge, a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being. This has become widely popular in Britain this year, and was one of Oxford Dictionaries’ runners-up as Word of the Year. For the background and the story of its rise in British English, I can’t do better than point you to an article by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian on 22 November.Image result for post-truth

The newest British buzzword is jam. Not as in the “jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today” meaning of the Red Queen in Through the Looking-Glass — though the quip has been made several times by pundits — but as an acronym for “Just About Managing”. This refers to the estimated six million working-age British households on low to middle incomes who are struggling to stave off poverty from day to day. The term derives from a speech given by the new prime minister, Theresa May, just after she was chosen by MPs in July. She said of the members of this group, “You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.” Her words became a catchphrase among commentators which has now been shortened.

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Lots of letters

Lots of letters

Boxing Day

Q From Burt Rubin; a related question came from Keith Denham: As an American, I’ve always wondered about the origin of the term Boxing Day.

A Boxing Day is a public holiday in Britain and most Commonwealth countries. There’s some minor confusion these days, in Britain at least, over which day it actually is. The reference books a century ago were adamant that it was the first working day after Christmas Day. However, the name is now frequently attached specifically to 26 December, even if it falls at the weekend, which makes it equivalent to the Christian saint’s day of St Stephen.

Image result for boxing dayWe have to go back to the early seventeenth century to find the basis for the name. The term Christmas box appeared about then for an earthenware box, something like a piggy bank, which apprentices and other workers took around immediately after Christmas to collect money. When the round was complete, the box was broken and the money distributed among the company. The first known example:

Tirelire, a Christmas box; a box having a cleft on the lid, or in the side, for money to enter it; used in Related imageFrance by begging Fryers, and here by Butlers, and Prentices, etc.
A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, by Randle Cotgrave, 1611.

By the eighteenth century, Christmas box had become a figurative term for any seasonal gratuity. By the nineteenth century their collection seems to have become a scourge in our big cities. When James Murray compiled an entry for Christmas box in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1889, his splendidly acerbic description suggests that the practice had become a personal bugbear:

A present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer of their legal employer; the undefined theory being that as they have done offices for this person, for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas.

Though the term Boxing Day for the day on which such Christmas boxes were requested didn’t become widespread until early in the nineteenth century, a few examples are recorded from the previous century. The earliest I know of is this:

Related imageTuesday in Christmas Week, about Eight in the Evening, I was coming over this broad Place, and saw a Man come up to this lame Man, and knock him down — It was the Day after Boxing Day.
Transcript of a trial at the Old Bailey (London), 14 Jan. 1743.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the term seems to have become as closely associated with importuning individuals as Christmas Box itself:

“Boxing Day,” — the day consecrated to baksheesh, when nobody, it would almost seem, is too proud to beg, and when everybody who does not beg is expected to play the almoner. “Tie up the knocker — say you’re sick, you are dead,” is the best advice perhaps that could be given in such cases to any man who has a street-door and a knocker upon it.
Curiosities of London Life, by Charles Manby Smith, 1853.

The custom has died out, seasonal visitors to Britain may be assured, though small gifts are still sometimes given to tradesmen and suppliers of services. The favourite occupation of the day is attending football matches or rushing to the post-Christmas sales.

World Wide Words is written, edited and published in the UK by Michael Quinion. ISSN 1470-1448


World Wide Words Issue 931

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Pun Central Catalog – WIF Wit and Humor

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Just My Type

Pun Central Catalog

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WIF Wit and Humor

Puns #1   Puns, Puns #1

Puns #2  Puns, Puns #2

Puns #3   Puns, Puns #3

Puns #4   “Did You Here the One….?”

Puns #5  I Heard Something Punny…

Puns #6   Punny Men

Puns #7   One Vote for Puns

Puns #8   Killer Puns

Puns #9   Illuminating Puns

Puns #10  Now Serving Tennis Puns

Puns #11  Covert Puns

Puns #12  Courting Legal Puns

Puns #13  Punny Money

Puns #14  Egotist Puns & Quotes

Puns #15  Post-Olympic Sporty Puns

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Puns #16  Hopeful Spring Puns

Puns #17  Sunny Puns

Puns #18  Puns Driving Humor

Puns #19  Familial Puns

Puns #20  Homespun Puns

Puns #21  Every Problem May Be a Punny One

Puns #22 Laborious Puns

Puns #23  Puns W/a Melody Image result for pun

Puns #24 Puns For Your Holiday

Puns #25  Spelling Puns

Puns #26  Irish Puns & Quotes

Puns #27  Puns Imported From Italy

Puns #28 Summer Sunday Puns

Puns #29  New Year Puns & Quotes

Puns #30  Presidential Puns

Puns #31  Nuts For Puns

Puns #32  Halloween Puns & Facts

Puns #33   Partisan Puns

Puns #34   Foolish Puns

Puns #35   Remembering Puns


Pun Central Catalog

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WIF Wit and Humor

World Wide Words Issue 929 – WIF Style

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World Wide Words

Issue 929

 

Lots of letters

Lots of letters

Tomfoolery

Q From Joe Brown: I was wondering where the phrase Tom Foolery came from?

A I would write it as one word, tomfoolery, and my ordered ranks of dictionaries tell me I’m right. But it often turns up in print in the way you have written it, or as Tom foolery or tom-foolery or Tom-foolery. Such forms show that their writers still link the word with some fool called Tom, even though they may not know who he was.tomfoolery

It is sometimes claimed that the original Tom Fool was Thomas Skelton. He was a jester, a fool, for the Pennington family at Muncaster Castle in Cumbria. This was probably about 1600 — he is said to be the model for the jester in Shakespeare’s King Lear of 1606. In legend, he was an unpleasant person. One story tells how he liked to sit under a tree by the road; whenever travellers he didn’t like asked the way to the ford over the River Esk, he would instead direct them to their deaths in the marshes. Another tale links him with the murder of a carpenter who was the lover of Sir William Pennington’s daughter.

So much for stories. In truth, Tom Fool is centuries older. He starts appearing in the historical record early in the 1300s in the Latinate form Thomas fatuus. The first part served even then as a generic term for any ordinary person, as it still does in phrases like Tom, Dick or Harry. The second word means stupid or foolish in Latin and has bequeathed us fatuous and infatuate, among other words. By 1356 Thomas fatuus had become Tom Fool.

Around the seventeenth century, the character of Tom Fool shifted somewhat from the epitome of a stupid or half-witted person to that of a fool or buffoon. He became a character who accompanied morris-dancers or formed part of the cast of various British mummers’ plays performed at Christmas, Easter or All Souls’ Day.

A tom-fool was more emphatically foolish than an unadorned fool. Tomfoolery was similarly worse than foolery, the state of acting foolishly, which had been in English since the sixteenth century. Perhaps oddly, it took until about 1800 for tomfoolery to appear. It had been preceded by the verb to tom-fool, to play the fool.

Fair to middling

Q From John Rupp, Dallas, Texas: I have often heard the phrase fair to Midland (middlin’?) in response to the inquiry ‘How are you doing?’ Any ideas on the origins of this phrase?

A As you hint, the phrase is more usually fair to middling, common enough — in Britain as well as North America — for something that’s moderate to merely average in quality, sometimes written the way people say it, as fair to middlin’.

With an initial capital letter, fair to Midland is a Texas version of the phrase, a joke on the name of the Image result for midland texascity of Midland in that state. A Texas rock band called themselves Fair to Midland after what they described as “an old Texan play on the term ‘fair to middling’”. American researcher Barry Popik has traced it to May 1935 in a report in the New York Times, “Dr. William Tweddell … is what might be called a fair-to-Midland golfer.”

But we do occasionally see examples of fair to midland in American contexts without a capital letter and without any suggestion of humour:

While overall attendance was fair to midland — the championship session drew about 800 — the Bartlett student section was outstanding.
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Illinois), 31 Dec. 2011.

This lower-case fair to midland version is recorded in Massachusetts in 1968, which suggests that even then it had already lost its connection with Texas. It might be folk etymology, in which an unfamiliar word is changed to one that’s better known. But it’s an odd example, as middling isn’t so very uncommon. It may be that people tried to correct middlin’ to a more acceptable version that lacked the dropped letter but plumped for the wrong word.

All the early examples of fair to middling I can find in literary works are similarly American, from authorsImage result for average such as Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott and Artemus Ward. To go by them, it looks as though it became common on the east coast of the US from the 1860s on. However, hunting in newspapers, I’ve found examples from a couple of decades before, likewise from the east coast. This one was in a newspaper review of the current issue of The Ladies’ Companion:

These three articles are the best in the present number — of the rest, most are from fair to middling.
Boston Morning Post, 6 Feb. 1841.

The earliest of all I’ve so far found comes from an article in the July 1837 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger of Richmond, Virginia: “A Dinner on the Plains, Tuesday, September 20th. — This was given ‘at the country seat’ of J. C. Jones, Esq. to the officers of the Peacock and Enterprise. The viands were ‘from fair to middling, we wish we could say more.’”

So the phrase is American, most probably early nineteenth century. But where does it come from? There’s a clue in the Century Dictionary of 1889: “Fair to middling, moderately good: a term designating a specific grade of quality in the market”. The term middling turns out to have been used as far back as the previous century both in the US and in Britain for an intermediate grade of various kinds of goods — there are references to a middling grade of flour, pins, sugar, and other commodities.

Which market the Century Dictionary was referring to is made plain by the nineteenth-century Word-of-the-weekAmerican trade journals I’ve consulted. Fair and middling were terms in the cotton business for specific grades — the sequence ran from the best quality (fine), through good, fair, middling and ordinary to the least good (inferior), with a number of intermediates, one being middling fair. The form fair to middling sometimes appeared as a reference to this grade, or a range of intermediate qualities — it was common to quote indicative prices, for example, for “fair to middling grade”.

The reference was so well known in the cotton trade that it escaped into the wider language. Some early figurative appearances in newspapers directly reflect the market usage:

Twenty-five cents a line, then, may be quoted as the present commercial value of good poetry … fair to middling is probably more difficult of sale.
New York Daily Times, 29 May 1855.

I have only the opinions of some who patronized her entertainments, who profess to be judges of such things. Verdict, as the Price Current says, “fair to middling with downward tendency.”
The Wabash Express (Terre Haute, Indiana), 18 May 1859.

The figurative term starts to appear in Britain in the 1870s, but early examples are all in stories imported from across the Atlantic. Even that seemingly most home-grown British composition, Austin Doherty’s Nathan Barley: Sketches in the Retired Life of a Lancashire Butcher of 1884, written in local dialect, includes it in the speech of an old school fellow who had emigrated and made his money in Michigan. So it was known but labelled as an Americanism. It took until the twentieth century for it to begin to be used unselfconsciously.

So help me Hannah

Q From Jon S of Mississippi: By any chance do you know the origin of the American expression, So help me Hannah? It used to be heard more often in days gone by, and people today may have never heard of it, but it’s an old saying that I cannot find the origin of.

A I can’t provide a definite origin but I can give some pointers.

Hannah, as a personal name, sometimes with the spelling pronunciation “Hanner”, has been used in the US in various colloquial sayings since at least the 1870s. They include that’s what’s the matter with Hannah, indicating emphatic agreement, of which John Farmer wrote disparagingly in his Americanisms of 1889, “A street catch-phrase with no especial meaning. For a time it rounded off every statement of fact or expression of opinion amongst the vulgar.” Another, since Hannah died, was a reference to the passage of time.

so-help-me-001The earliest on record is he doesn’t amount to Hannah Cook, later often abbreviated to he doesn’t amount to Hannah and also appearing as not worth a Hannah Cook.

Mr. Sweeney rose again to explain the mysteries of printing ballots the evening before election, and added that the acceptance or rejection of the investigating Committee’s report “didn’t amount to Hannah Cook,” because it made no recommendations.
Boston Daily Globe, 9 Sep. 1875.

This early appearance in a Boston newspaper supports the general opinion that it’s of New England origin. John Gould suggested in his Maine Lingo of 1975 that it derived from seafaring: “A man who signed on as a hand or cook didn’t have status as one or the other and could be worked in the galley or before the mast as the captain wished. The hand or cook was nondescript, got smaller wages, and became the Hannah Cook of the adage.” The story sounds too much like folk etymology to be readily swallowed.

So help me Hannah is a mildly euphemistic form of the oath so help me God, which starts to appear in print in the early twentieth century. Hannah here seems likely to have been borrowed from one or other of the earlier expressions. It became widely used in the 1920s and 1930s.

“By hell, Chief,” he drawled, drawing a huge clasp-knife from his
pocket, “I been grazin’ on this here Alasky range nigh on to twenty
yars, and so help me Hannah, I never did find a place so wild or a
bunch o’ hombres so tough but what sooner or later all hands starts
a-singin’ o’ the female sect.”
Where the Sun Swings North, by Barrett Willoughby, 1922.

After the Second World War, the American firm Hannah Laboratories produced a salve with the name So help me Hannah. Some people have pointed to this as the origin of the expression, though the firm was, of course, merely exploiting a phrase that had long since become part of the common language.

elsewhere2

OED history revealed. I have this week spent much time that I should have been devoting to other things in dipping into Peter Gilliver’s scholarly work The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. It tells the story from its prehistory, through the long and often difficult process of creating the first edition, its supplements and the second edition, to the early stages of the research into OED3. Uniquely among OED historians he is an experienced lexicographer, who has worked on the OED and other Oxford dictionaries since 1987. His heavily footnoted text is a testament to the depth of his decade of investigation; it’s not for the casual reader but will repay anyone with a serious interest in the story behind one of Britain’s greatest treasures. (Hardback, already out in the UK, £40; to be published in the US on 25 October at $65.)

Slang dictionary goes online. While we’re on national treasures, it’s timely to mention Green’s Dictionary of Slang (reviewed by me in 2010), a magisterial three-volume creation by Jonathon Green, which one writer has called the OED of slang (53,000 headwords, 110,000 slang terms, 410,000 examples of usage). The work is going live online on 12 October with comprehensive search facilities.

Image result for slang

If you wish only to check a headword, an etymology and a definition, the site is free; if you want to access the full work and timeline of development, you can take out an annual subscription, currently £49.00 ($65.00) for single users, £10.00 ($15.00) for students. Just like the OED, online publication means that the work is continually being updated; nearly 30% of the print book has been revised, augmented and generally improved, and as just one example, early quotations for various senses of dope which I unearthed while writing my piece of 6 August and sent to Jonathon have already been incorporated into the entry.

Image result for slang

Origin of slang. What is perhaps most interesting about slang is that the origin of its name has long been debated and still isn’t firmly established. Some experts have argued for a link to the English verb sling, to throw, with the implication that it’s disposable or throw-away language. Modern dictionaries say this is improbable but have nothing to put in its place, falling back on phrases such as “origin unknown”. In 2008, in his Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology, Professor Anatoly Liberman suggested it came from another sense of slang, a narrow strip of land, which he linked to various words of Scandinavian origin that imply a group of travellers, tramps or hawkers. He argued that the progression of sense is “A piece of land -> those who travel about this territory (first and foremost, hawkers) -> the manner of hawkers’ speech -> low class jargon, argot.” Prof Liberman has this week repeated his argument in his Oxford Etymologist blog. Not everyone is as yet convinced.

Joe Soap

Q From Steve Campbell: My dear old mother would occasionally use the expression Who do you think I am, Joe Soap? We migrated to Australia from the Old Dart in 1951 and I’ve never heard it used by Australians. What is its origin and is it still in use in the UK?

A It remains moderately common in Britain but its meaning has shifted since your mother learned it. She would have had in mind a stupid or naive person, one who could be easily put upon or deceived. These days it refers to a typical individual, the archetypal person in the street.

The full judgement will be published in a week or two and the ordinary Joe Soap will take hours to read it and understand.
Daily Mirror, 9 Sep. 2015.

This sense is now known outside the UK, especially in North America.

Your mother’s sense is usually regarded as services slang from the Second World War, most oftenImage result for joe soap associated with the Royal Air Force:

Joe Soap was the legendary airman who carried the original can. He became a synonym for anyone who had the misfortune to be assigned an unwelcome duty in the presence of his fellows, or to be temporarily misemployed in a status lower than his own. “I’m Joe Soap,” he would say lugubriously, and I’m carrying the something can.”
Royal Air Force Quarterly, 1944. “Something” may be read as a polite substitute for a more forceful epithet. See here for carry the can.

The term certainly became popular during the war but there’s evidence it was known earlier in the naive sense:

I ain’t no Joe Soap to go a-believin’ of all their yarns.
Blackwood’s Magazine, 1934. The writer who quoted this added, “Who Joe Soap was I have never discovered”, which suggests it wasn’t then widely known.

What might be an earlier services connection is the song Forward Joe Soap’s Army, which featured in Joan Littlewood’s musical Oh What a Lovely War and in the film made of it. Despite claims that the songs in the play were authentic First World War creations, I can find no reference to it before the play was first performed in 1963.

However, it wouldn’t have been an anachronism, since the phrase can be traced to the nineteenth century as a generic name for someone unknown, or a pseudonym that was adopted by somebody wanting to stay anonymous.

A man whose real name is unknown, but who is known in the district as “Joe Soap,” had on Tuesday evening crossed a field near Meltham, to get to Bingley Quarry, but in the dusk, mistaking his position, he fell into the quarry, and was killed.
Leeds Times, 21 Sep. 1878.

Witness then went across the road to him and told him to be quiet, and defendant who was using very bad language, put on his coat and got into his trap. Witness then asked him his name and he said “Joe Soap, that will do for you.”
Chepstow Weekly Advertiser, 13 Apr. 1907.

Image result for average joeNobody knows for sure where this generic name comes from.

The first part has been widely used to refer to an ordinary person — Joe Bloggs, Joe Blow, Joe Sixpack, Joe Average, ordinary Joe, Joe Doakes, Joe Public — there are lots of examples, though most of them originate in North America. Joe was noted in Britain as a generic term in 1846, albeit in a different sense, when it appeared in The Swell’s Night Guide: “Joe, an imaginary person, nobody, as Who do those things belong to? Joe.” The unknown-person sense of Joe Soap might have come from it.

It is usually assumed that the second part is rhyming slang for dope, a stupid person, though this would have been improbable in the nineteenth century. Though a couple of examples of dope with that meaning are recorded from the dialect of Cumberland in the 1850s, it wasn’t then widely known in Britain. In that sense it was imported later from North America.

My thanks to Peter Morris, Garson O’Toole and Jonathan Lighter of the American Dialect Society for their contributions to revising this article.

SIC

  • A confusing headline in the Boston Globe online on 11 August left readers, among them Bart Bresnik, wondering who was searching for whom: “Woman found abandoned in hospital as baby searches for mom.”
  • The website of a hotel in California left Michael Boydston feeling it may be providing more than he was looking for: “Nestled in your opulent guest room with luxurious bedding and special amenities, the Drisco’s thoughtful staff will be there to anticipate your needs and carry out your wishes.”
  • Department of too much information: “Portis told us everything. Then Princess Cire told us the rest.” (Behind the Throne, by K B Wagers, 2016).

World Wide Words is written, edited and published in the UK by Michael Quinion


World Wide Words Issue 929

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #321

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #321

Chapter Nineteen

Trials and Triumph

…Does she or doesn’t she…

Does she or doesn’t she?” Bob Ford knows the answer to that question, posed by advertisers for Miss Clairol, but he best not spill the truth about the color of his wife’s hair.

“I think that the visual medium of television is a bit too nosey for my taste.” Lyn Hanes-Ford laments about the potential invasion of privacy.

“But only your hair dresser knows for sure!” The wily fly-boy is watching way too much television now that he is semi-retired. “You know, your hair was darker when I first met you.”

Carolyn’s steely blue eyes are focused on her husband’s direction, her attention drawn away from the banging of artful keystrokes, those recounting Bob’s former heroics. She muses, “Let’s see, didn’t you typewriterget your crew lost over the Arabian Sea, nearly running out of fuel?”

Ford does not remember it that way and why is she tinkering with the story of the Pacific Clipper. “Hey sweetie, you know that we were flying by the seat of our pants and I thought you finished that account last year.”

Lyn fluffs her shoulder length blond locks. “I just had a bunch of notes on paper, no structured text, when I started “The Day”. Now I have time to tell the whole story… that was an amazing experience, Bob!”

“Okay, you were a blond when I met you.”

“I thought you would see it my way…”

In the midst of this playful banter, the telephone rings. It has its origins from a Florida exchange, as suggested by the type of ring.

          “I’ll get it!” she is hoping it is the call she has been waiting for. “Hello?”

          “Miss Hanes, is that you? This is a voice from your past.”

          “It is Mrs. Ford now, Joe Slater. How are you?”


Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #321


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