Curious expurgations (1821)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Tue Apr 19 04:44:31 UTC 2005

Looking through the American Periodicals Series, I came across a humorous
epistolary story from 1821, published in two parts in the _Literary
Companion_ under the title, "The letters, adventures, observations, and
peregrinations of Larry Rip, (late of Ireland) at present in the city of
New-York."  It's full of Irish slang, but also of interest are two
passages with expurgated words:

_Literary Companion_ Aug 4, 1821, p. 116/2
You must know, Dennis, that when I was a little red-headed, s****** n****,
bandy-legged chap of sixteen, you left the nate little country seat I
spoke of.
_Literary Companion_ Aug 11, 1821, p. 130/2
Were ye only a man but for two minutes, you'd be hopping round like a
blind f*** in a tar bucket-- you'd know what it is to strike an Irishman.

I'm pretty sure that the first asterisked item is "snotty nosed" (attested
back to 1610).  As for "f***", the context strongly suggests "frog", but
why would that need to be sanitized?  My guess is that the author (or
editor) was simply having some fun, expurgating an innocuous four-letter
"F-word" to play with the reader's expectation that "f***" represents
"fuck" or perhaps "frig".  ("Frig" is similar to "frog", so maybe that's
the point of the joke.)

--Ben Zimmer

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