Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Hanging Out with Pickwick
There's a strange feeling that you get when you're reading an old novel and find what you thought was a new phrase. Take, for example, hanging out. It's a phrase that I would have imagined was invented by surfers in the 1960s. So when you come across it in Dickens' Pickwick Papers from 1837 it feels decidedly odd:
Mr. Bob Sawyer, thrusting his forefinger between two of Mr. Pickwick's ribs, and thereby displaying his native drollery, and his knowledge of the anatomy of the human frame, at one and the same time, inquired—
'I say, old boy, where do you hang out?' Mr. Pickwick replied that he was at present suspended at the George and Vulture.
Not only was the phrase around, but it was familiar and annoying enough to be parodied. In fact, hang out comes from the idea of hanging out a sign to show that you're there for business. The same thing once struck me when I was reading Great Expectations. Wemmick is miserable and tells Pip:
"It's a bad job," said Wemmick, scratching his head, "and I assure you I haven't been so cut up for a long time."
Pickwick Papers also contains a character called Mr Phunky, which may be a forerunner of our more modern term. It was only eight years later, in 1845, that a writer called Samuel Naylor was able to pen the immortal line:
I do feel somewhat funky.
Anyway, here's a recording of an interview with Mr Pickwick.