Tue Aug 29 22:56:53 UTC 2000

        Toward the end of May, 1823, New York City was stood on its ear by
excitement over a horserace.  A troop of outstanding racers were
brought into the city from Virginia, headed by a horse named Sir
Henry and including a horse named Flying Childers.  They were to be
matched against horses from the north, Sir Henry to be challenged by
a horse named Eclipse.  (Flying Childers and Eclipse both had
borrowed their names from famous 18th century English horses.)
Extraordingary sums were said to have been bet.  The New York
newspapers were full of the story, both during the race meet and for
a week or more before.  One paper said that the population of the
town had been doubled by the number of people who had come to see the
event.  Another amused its readers by picturing these visitors
trundling their luggage down the streets, knocking on every door with
a sign "Boarders Taken" in the window, and finding that all beds were

        Another paper published a whimsical letter from "A Yankee"
describing the excitement.  The letter represented a French barber
exclaiming "foutre, foutre, Eclipse, bon Flying Childers."  Now, I
believe that "foutre" does not have the resonance to the French that
its English equivalent has -- or had -- to Americans.  Just the same,
I am surprised to see "foutre" in print in a general circulation
newspaper at that date.  I would suppose that a reasonable number of
the New Yorkers likely to subscribe to a newspaper would know the
word, and would naturally translate it as "fuck" and find it
offensive.  It is possible that A Yankee was playing a prank on the
newspaper editor and taking advantage of his ignorance.  But I
noticed nothing in subsequent days in this paper nor in several rival
papers expressing apologies, or indignation, or any other reaction.
It's also true that these newspapers offer 2 or 3 square feet of
often one sentence or one paragraph stories in small type and without
headlines, so stuff is very easy to miss.

        Have any of the lexicographers among us anything in their files to
indicate when "foutre" or its derivitives, like "foutu" or "Je m'en
foutisme" first found their way into respectable English language
publications?  I notice that the OED has "Je m'en fous" from an
Arnold Bennett novel of 1928.

        The source of this passaage was The Statesman, May 26, 1823, p. 2,
col. 4


More information about the Ads-l mailing list