Friday 14 October 2011

Beau Traps and Affpuddles

So, the rain has stopped and you're strolling along the pavement wearing your best socks when moist disaster strikes. You tread upon a paving stone that looks dry and safe, but it's loose. The stone flicks down and water that was hidden beneath it squirts up and spoils your socks, soaks your shoes, and leaves the hem of your trousers sodden. There is a name for this.

In fact, there are two names. Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) has this entry:

Beau Trap A loose stone in a pavement, under which water lodges, and on being trod upon, squirts it up, to the great damage of white stockings; also a sharper neatly dressed, lying in wait for raw country squires, or ignorant fops.

A beau was, of course, a well-dressed young man. So a beau trap is the enemy of good clothing. However, the term has an antiquated feel and there is a more recent alternative. Douglas Adams and John Lloyd once wrote a book called The Meaning of Liff. The idea of the book was that they took British place names and assigned amusing definitions to them.

...there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognize, but for which no words exist.

On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.

Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.

Anyway, The Meaning of Liff contains this entry for the name of a Dorset village:

Affpuddle (n.)
A puddle which is hidden under a pivoted paving stone. You only know it's there when you step on the paving stone and the puddle shoots up your leg.

So there are two names for the same pavemental phenomenon. But are there any others? A friend of mine was asking me for something more modern-sounding. More hip. More cool. If anybody has another term - either one you've heard or that you've just invented - please post it in the comments.

The caption here reads: Treading in a beau trap while in the act of gaily advancing your foot, to make a bow to some charming woman of your acquaintance whom you suddenly meet, and to whom you liberally impact a share of the jet d'eau.


  1. What about a pavement fountain?

  2. For a moment, I thought you were making up these words until I saw the picture...

    Great post, and great blog!

  3. What about a geezer geyser? Might not work when it's not written down though.

  4. I kinda don't get what this means but then again, when I saw the picture I finally understand what you guys are talking about.

  5. i feel like this (affpuddle) has to be related to S and F overlapping in early english...!