Dialogue on the Threshold

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Monday, 17 January 2011

British grossièreté

In a most curious and rare tract, entitled A Joco-serious Discourse in two Dialogues, between a Northumberland Gentleman and his Tenant, a Scotchman, both old Cavaliers, 1686, p. 32, we read:

“To horse-race, fair, or hoppin go,
There play our cast among the whipsters,
Throw for the hammer, lowp (leap) for slippers,
And see the maids dance for the ring,
Or any other pleasant thing;
Fart for the pigg, lye for the whetstone,
Or chuse what side to lay our betts on.”

We find notes explaining the word “Hoppin” by “annual feasts in country towns where no market is kept,” and “lying for the whetstone,” I’m told, has been practised, but farting for the pigg is beyong the memory of any I met with; tho’ it is a common phrase in the north to any that’s gifted that way; and probably there has been such a mad practice formerly. -- The ancient grossièreté of our manners would almost exceed belief. In the stage directions to old Moralities (1) we often find “Here Satan letteth a fart.”

Henry Ellis, Observations on the popular antiquities of Great Britain chiefly illustrating the origin of our vulgar and provincial customs, ceremonies and superstitions, Second edition, H.G. Bohn, London, 1853

(1) I.e. morality plays