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.


  1. 'There is nothing new under the sun'. There were punks in London in the late 19th century, complete with mohawk hairdos.

  2. While hanging out on your site, I found your upcoming book. Since I like your blog, I know I'll like the book, so I bought it. When will it go on sale officially? {BTW, the cost of shipping it to the US exceeds the price of the book! Scandalous.}

  3. Ah, sorry about that. The book comes out on the third of November. It will come out in America too, indeed it's sort of listed on the US Amazon site. Unfortunately, the title of the book got changed a month or so ago and the Amazon US still has it listed under the old title of Point Blank Check Mate. It also doesn't have my name on it and you can't pre-order it and I don't know what's going on. I'm assured by people who know such things that it will right itself when the data propagates through the system.

  4. Thanks for the update. I have ordered
    your book from Amazon, but now also from the bookdepository. I can now give one as a gift to my daughter.

  5. I have just come across this 4 year-old post because I was looking for Pickwick Papers fans, as I have actually written a novel, which will be published soon, about the origins of The Pickwick Papers (more info if you are interested at www.deathandmrpickwick.com). But if I had used "hanging out" in my novel, I am sure people would have thought I was committing a terrible anachronism, even though the phrase was authentic! Best wishes Stephen Jarvis