Saturday 26 December 2015

Today Is Not Boxing Day

A little repost from 2010:

Today is not boxing day.

Once upon a time, there was a thing called a Christmas box. A Christmas box was a box with a small hole cut in it, like a piggy bank, through which coins could be dropped. It was kept in a church and, like a piggy bank, it could not be opened, only smashed. The smashing was done at Christmas, hence the name: Christmas box.

Christmas boxes were used by servants, apprentices, bloggers and other impoverished fools to save up some money for the frosty and festive season. In gambling dens there would be a Christmas box of tips for the benefit of the butler. As one chap put it in 1634:

It is a shame, for a rich Christian to be like a Christmas boxe, that receives all, and nothing can be got out, till it be broken in peeces.

Anyway, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the idea of the Christmas box shifted. There were lots of chaps like postmen and milkmen and butchers' boys and bloggers who didn't have loose change to be stowing away all year. Yet they still felt they deserved a little something at Christmas. So generous Victorians would make a little box of presents which they would present to all the delivery boys on the first weekday after Christmas, thus insisteth the OED.

The first weekday after Christmas therefore became known as Boxing Day. And today?

Today is a Saturday.

All those pleading postmen, beggarly bloggers and other assorted lazzaroni will arrive at your door on Monday morning, their usual truculence usurped by a poor smile and rich words. As Mr Weller remarks of his son's attempt at a Valentine's card in The Pickwick Papers:

''Tain't in poetry, is it?' interposed his father.

'No, no,' replied Sam.

'Wery glad to hear it,' said Mr. Weller. 'Poetry's unnat'ral; no man ever talked poetry 'cept a beadle on boxin'-day, or Warren's blackin', or Rowland's oil, or some of them low fellows; never you let yourself down to talk poetry, my boy.'

You have, dear poetic reader, been warned.

(A beadle, by the way, was a sort of policeman paid for by the parish).

Friday 4 December 2015

Forcing Back the F Word

I should probably warn readers that there may be swear words in this post, and they may come very soon. If you are of a delicate temperament, now is the time to reach for your smelling salts.

I said in The Etymologicon that the word fuck was first recorded in the late fifteenth century, but the word has now been found all the way back in 1310. A historian called Paul Booth was happily leafing through the archives of Chester County Court when he came across (if that is the right expression), a defendant called Roger Fuckbythenavel.

Now, Roger is, of course, a funny name, and I've always thought it appropriate that James Bond was played by a double entendre; but it's the surname here that is new and a trifle surprising. I've spent a little while trying to see if there could be any other meaning at all. And I can't. It's...

How do you get a name like that?

Here I could hypothesise until the home-coming of the cows, but I assume that it must have been a nickname based on poor Roger's poor rogering, or perhaps on some misconception bred from the lack of sex education classes in Chester.

Anyway, it didn't have a good effect on him. Roger Fuckbythenavel was summoned to court three times over the next two years, and it all ended with him being outlawed, which isn't as romantic as it sounds. It probably just meant that he was hanged. And if the hangman did his job properly Roger was...

Dear reader, forgive me, a never saw a pun I didn't like...

Roger was well hung.