Wednesday 12 December 2012

A Cheap Chap in Chepstow

EDIT: BIRMINGHAM IS NO MORE! Although I will pop in and sign some books at about two thirty or three.

I'll be giving a talk in Chepstow this evening, in the Drill Hall at 7:30. Details here.

Chepstow is a cheap place, etymologically speaking. Well, in fact, Chepstow means market place. And to explain why that is, and why chep is the same as cheap and chap I shall reproduce a post from a couple of years ago.

Before I do, though, I'm also talking in Birmingham tomorrow and Warwick on Friday. Click for details.

dear chap is a bad thing, etymologically speaking.

Once upon a time, markets were calledcheaps. That's why there's Cheapside and East Cheap in London. Cheapmeant any sort of trade or bargaining or financial push-me-pull-you. If prices were low, it was a good cheap, just as with the French bon marché. If prices were high, it was a dear cheap, as in thePromptorium Parvulorum's:

He byeth in tyme and at hour, so that he hath not of the dere chepe 

So a market man, a buyer or a seller, became a chapman. Thenchapman dwindled to chap so that in The Beggar's Opera (1728) Peachum can say:

Wife, rip out the Coronets and Marks of these Dozen of Cambric Handkerchiefs, for I can dispose of them this Afternoon to a Chap in the City

By which he does not mean fellow, but customer. However, trade and humanity are woven fine. It is in the nature of Economic Man to view all his fellow fellows through the distorting lens of a shop window. Thus we talk today about a tough customer, even though the tough in question may have no intention of buying.

Similarly, chap drifted from meaning a potential purchaser and, sometime in the Eighteenth Century, became a word for any old fellow. And if you like the chap, he's a dear chap and that's now a Good Thing.

The Inky Fool felt let down by the roofers

1 comment:

  1. Again - 'chep' is widely used in the Black Country as in, rather than go to a shop (or shep) 'I'll goo down tha market irr'll be chepper'.......

    Laurie -