Today I want to talk about hanging. No, I’m only pulling your leg. Where does that expression come from? It’s actually quite macabre, and linked to capital punishment.
The “modern, humane” method of hanging as a form of execution is to break a bone in the neck, causing instant death. The old method was, in short, strangulation, a method which was slow and painful. (As an aside: some of the executions at the end of the Nuremberg Trials were badly botched, leading to some of the condemned men dying very, very slowly and agonisingly: 15 to 30 minutes in several cases.)
“I’m only pulling your leg”, meaning “I’m only gently teasing you”, goes back to the days when your friends would try to shorten your agony as you were slowly strangled to death at the end of a rope. They were literally trying to put you out of your misery by trying to force air out of your body and send you unconscious.
Fancy a gala day out? Guess what. That comes from the days when watching the public hangings was pretty much a spectator sport, a family day out, if you like, when everyone would go down to the gallows.
Are you on the wagon? Not drinking? When the condemned man was being transported on a donkey-drawn cart from prison to the gallows, he would be allowed to stop off at the pubs on the way to execution. If he decided not to pop into the pub for a quick half, he would stay on the wagon. There is even a pub in Abingdon in Oxfordshire called The Broad Face. Legend has it, this is because the pub was located opposite a prison where old-method hanging was carried out. I won’t go into the physiological details here…
Have a gala day, won’t you!
It’s been a quiet evening at home. Nothing on TV. (This is Germany.) Nothing on radio, well apart from the sad, sad story of Hartlepool football club. I’ve been thinking about our mother tongue, post-Norman demotic Anglo-Saxon.
Random thoughts: is the -ess suffix now dead, moribund, obsolete or obsolescent. Who says or writes the following words any more?
All that seems to be left is “waitress” (which I think has been replaced by the gender-neutral word, “server” in the USA). Oh yes, and “mistress.” Ah, and there’s also “goddess” and “princess.” (I guess the first two serve, the latter two are served.)
What has caused this suffix to become obsolescent? Are native-speakers of our language much less sexist than a generation ago, when many a shop would have a manageress (sic). That reminds me, I must look up that story I found a while back about obsolete words, such as “aerodrome.” Doubtless my Irish fellow blogger has a better idea than I. 🙂
Have an obsolescent day, won’t you!
I love seeing how languages evolve. That’s why I loved CSP (Comparative Slavonic Philology) in final year at university.
- Why is there an “h” in “ghost”? Because Caxton employed Dutch typesetters on his printing presses, and they were used to seeing an “h” in their word for “ghost.” In it went…
- But then, why do we call the people from the Netherlands the “Dutch”? Because the people from the Netherlands and the people from modern-day Germany were seen as one and the same people. Hence “Deutsch” becomes “Dutch.”
- Ain’t no doubt about that. But what about the word “ain’t”? Until the late 1700’s, “ain’t” was, in fact, the perfectly correct shortened form of “[I] am not.”
- As for “its”, this is a relatively new word in modern English. Up until the late 1600’s the word “his” was used in relation to both “he” and “it.”
- That man: his head.
- That book: his author.
- Just like in modern German.
- Dieser Mann: sein Kopf.
- Dieser Buch: sein Autor.
- An intermediate step was the “there[proposition] because not everyone liked to use the word its, eg:
- Parts thereof
- Therein lies the message
- Mad as a hatter? Hatters used mercury to clean dust off hats. Breathe in mercury vapour, and it’ll cause brain damage. And why call a hatter a “milner”? Because Milan in Italy was famous for hat-making.
Finally a clip that may appeal to all the etymologists out there, even if you are not that interested in insects.
Have a lexical day, won’t you!
My local radio station, BBC Radio Tees, runs a headline competition on its breakfast show.
Here’s the story.
Here’s my headline.
FACE STIFF PENALTIES”
Have a tabloid day, won’t you!
One of my favourite genre of jokes in English is “A (whatever/whoever) walks into a bar.”
Shakespeare walks into a bar.
The landlord shouts:
Get out! You’re bard.
A man walks into a bar. He cries:
Ouch! That hurt!
It was an iron bar.
My favourite is this one, however.
A dog walks into a bar. He orders a drink.
A pint of… bitter, please.
Our barman replies:
Hey, that’s amazing. But why the pause?
Our dog replies:
No idea. I was just born with them.
Have a bar-vellous day, won’t you!
Russia has Pushkin.
Germany has Brecht.
France has… I haven’t a clue…
England has Shakespeare. Shakespeare invented lots of words, eg assassin, bump, even the word “elbow” (cf: German: “Elbogen”).
Take a look at these beauties!
And for a bonus, take a look at these Shakespearean insults, thou curmudgeonly apple-worm!
Have an inventive day, won’t you!
To you they might seem like mild expletives. To people in Elizabethan times, they were a lot stronger?
- Blimey – “God blind me!”
- Crickey – 19th century euphemism for Christ.
- Zounds – nowadays rhymes with “bounds”, but was originally “God’s wounds” (ie from the nails driven into his body on the cross).
- Bloody – nothing to do with red (or blue if a royal) liquid: it’s a corruption of “by Our Lady” (ie, the Virgin Mary).
Back in those days of Elizabeth I, religious oaths were considered much stronger and profane than sexual “rude words.”
Have a rude day, won’t you!