Son of a Biscuit Eater (1877)
James A. Landau
JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Tue May 11 13:22:13 UTC 2004
I have not been able to find a reference, but my understanding is that the
term "biscuit-eater" is older than the English language, being applied to, among
other people, soldiers of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. "Biscuit" here
refers to bread, usually unleavened, baked in a way that allows it to be
stored for long periods of time, which along with salt meat was the usual food of
soldiers on campaign and sailors on sea voyages. In American English we
generally call the stuff "hardtack" when it is used by soldiers and "seabiscuit"
when used by sailors.
Hence "son of a biscuit-eater" means either "son of a soldier" or "son of a
sailor". One likely connotation is "bastard" or "camp follower" since sailors
are notorious for "a girl in every port" and few armies have marched anywhere
without leaving a trail of bastards (the familiar "whores de combat").
Compare "son of a gun", which the OED dates to 1708 and which has (take your pick)
the meaning of either "child conceived from intercourse performed in the
relative privacy of the space underneath a gun carriage" or the more general "child
of a camp follower (army) or soldier's woman (navy)".
"Son of a biscuit" without "eater" could be a mistake for the full phrase by
someone who was unaware of the term "biscuit eater" but I agree with George
Thompson that it is more likely a euphemism for "son of a bitch".
- James A. Landau
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