Bowery Boys; & muss

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Mon Sep 16 19:27:36 UTC 2002

The Bowery Boys are fashionable again, it seems.  The earliest citation for that phrase in the OED is from 1840.  Here is an earlier one.

1835:   The Bowery boys will be struck up in a heap at the brilliant demonstrations made for their edification and admiration.
        Evening Star, July 25, 1835, p. 2, col. 3

A favorite recreation of the Bowery Boys was creating a muss, or participating in one.  A 'Muss" was a fist-fight or brawl or riot.  The earliest citation of that word in the OED is from 1830, and the earliest in HDAS is 1838.  The first of the following is a one-year antedating of the OED, and all three antedate HDAS.

1829:   She told witness that if she would not make a d----d muss about it, she would bring it back.
New-York Evening Post, January 14, 1829, p. 2, col. 2

1835:   . . . Mr. Richard Ramare . . . happened . . . to wend his way to the battery for the purpose of promenading its purlieus, he became the means of making a "muss". . . .
New York Transcript, September 23, 1835, p. 2, col. 5

1837:   The Flour Muss.
New York Times, February 17, 1837, p. 2, col. 5  [headline, referring to a riot over the price of flour.]


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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