Curious expurgations (1821)

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Apr 20 01:12:48 UTC 2005

How about "fart" ?  Perh. this was an alteration of an original "frog" simile ?


Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
Subject: Curious expurgations (1821)

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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