Mickey Finn (1918)

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Dec 3 20:26:59 UTC 2004

George is correct. The Jerrold stories were collected (?) in cheap book form about 1899, but "Mickey Finn" doesn't appear except as the name of the character.

In 1904, the Chicago authorities shut down a dive run by a crook whose name (or alias, the stories I've seen don't say) was "Mickey Finn."  He was shut down for administering knockout drops. Since the news reports draw no connection between Finn and  the slang term, I assume that this incident was the origin of the phrase.


George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: George Thompson
Subject: Re: Mickey Finn (1918)

The earliest appearance of this incident in the Chicago Tribune was also June 23, 1918.

Evidently a writer named Ernest Jerrold had been writing a series of no doubt comic stories about a character named Mickey Finn who lived in an Irish district (in the U. S., I think). Evidently this lead to the name being the stereotype name for a stereotype Irisher. The Chicago Tribune also ran occasional comic strips featuring a troublesome little boy -- in the one I looked at, the boy chased a cat onto a pump; the cat climbed onto the pump handle which caused water to come out into the boy's face. This seemed to be unsigned.

My recollections of seeing this term in print when a boy was that it was used as if synonymous with knockout drops -- as if it produced unconsciousness. My father occasionally used the term in its correct meaning: a quick-acting laxative. (Sorry to introduce a touch of prescriptivism here.)


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

"We have seen the best of our time. Machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders follow us disquietly to our graves." King Lear, Act 1, scene 2 (Gloucester speaking).

----- Original Message -----
From: Benjamin Zimmer
Date: Friday, December 3, 2004 5:13 am
Subject: Mickey Finn (1918)

> Found via Newspaperarchive:
> Washington Post, June 23, 1918, p. 1
> Chicago, June 23.-? State's Attorney Hoyne, acting on
> information as to coercive measures used by waiters to compel
> the giving of tips, arrested 100 waiters, members of Waiters'
> Union, Local No. 7, today.
> Mr. Hoyne had a report that waiters used a certain powder in
> the dishes of known opponents to the system.
> The powders, according to Mr. Hoyne, produced nausea and were
> known as "Mickey Finns." It is thought that many cases of
> supposed ptomaine poisoning reported after meals in downtown
> cafes and hotels may have been caused by the "Mickey Finns."
> (Reno) Nevada State Journal, June 26, 1918, p. 8
> Mr. Hoyne believes Crones is the inventor of the "Micky
> Finn" powders he accused local waiters of administering to
> non-tipping patrons of hotels and cafes.
> (Reno) Nevada State Journal, June 29, 1918, p. 4
> Ben F. Parker, one of the men seized by State's Attorney
> Hoyne in a raid on a Chicago waiters' union headquarters
> several days ago in connection with an alleged plot of
> waiters to put "Mickey Finn" powder in food served hotel
> patrons who refused to give tips, was arrested today in the
> lobby of a downtown hotel.
> (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, July 10, 1918, p. 1
> Ten Chicago waiters and bartenders were indicted here today
> on charges growing out of an investigation of the manufacture
> and sale of "Mickey Finn" powders.
> Fort Wayne (Indiana) News And Sentinel, July 13, 1918, p. 1
> Waiters and officials of the Waiters' Union were indicted by
> the grand jury today as a result of revelation that patrons of
> hotel dining rooms and restaurants, who had omitted tips, had
> been drugged with "Mickey Finn" powders, a concoction, colorless
> and tasteless, known to the medical profession as tartar emetic.
> I don't have access to the Chicago Tribune archive at the moment,
> but I'm
> sure that many other references to this case could be found. I
> did find
> these items, reprinted from the syndicated Tribune column "A Line
> O' Type
> Or Two" ("BLT" was Bert Leston Taylor and "PAN" was Keith Preston):
> (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, June 28, 1918, p. 6
> "Italians Quick with Knockout." -- Headline.
> They may be using Mickey Finn powder in their shells.
> (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, June 29, 1918, p. 4
> Should a patron not tip,
> Let the waiter just slip
> 'Twixt the cup and the lip
> One Mickey Finn powder.
> Have an obus boy hear
> When he calls for a beer,
> Pass the word in his ear,
> "Powder monkey, the powder!"
> When he falters "Oh my!
> I feel clammy, goodbye!"
> Let the waiter reply.
> "No doubt, 'twas the chowder!"
> --PAN
> (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, June 29, 1918, p. 4
> Slogan from C.R.G.: "A dime a day keeps the Mickey Finn away."
> --BLT
> This all predates the earliest OED3/RHHDAS cite for "Mickey Finn"
> by a
> decade. But considering how widely reported the case was, it
> seems likely
> that this was a key source for the term's popularization beyond the
> Chicago underworld.
> --Ben Zimmer

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