"blowing out"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Fri Mar 28 13:46:54 UTC 2008

This passage seems to have thee difference senses of "blowing out", but what these senses are isn't at all clear.

        The Boston Artillery will attend the "blowing out"** ball at Manchester, N. H., March 19 (Monday.)  On the next evening, 20th, there will be a grand ball at Lowell, on the occasion of the "blowing out."  Pushee's band will be on hand as usual.  [footnote]  ** "Blowing out" means when the girls do not work by candle-light.  [quoting a Boston newspaper]
         We have known "blowing out" balls in the interior of New Jersey before now, where the boys and girls, after blowing out the candles, continued "blowing out" until day-light.  We thought the custom obsolete in New England, however.
        New York Daily Globe, March 12, 1849, p. 2, col. 4

#3, what the boys and girls do in Jersey, seems to indicate a practice like bundling?  In any event, there's a sexual association.  The connection with "blowing out" is perhaps based on the sense of regaling one's self, treating one's self to a good time?

The Editor of the Globe I take it was put in mind of this sense by an apparent implication of the paragraph from the Boston paper.  But I'm sure that the young men of the Boston Artillery were all most virtuous chaps, and don't believe that the balls in Manchester and Lowell were of the ballum rankum sort.  (If you don't know what a ballum rankum is, ask Jonathan, Jonathon, or Captain Grose.)   The expression perhaps has reference to a militia exercise, perhaps practice firing of artillery?  And treating that as a major event by having a dance afterwards?

The definition of "blowing out" offered by the Boston paper doesn't help at all.  The definition seems to me to connect to a labor demand.  The girls working at the Lowell factories were pretty obstropulous at this time, and were perhaps refusing to work by artificial light?

I don't see these senses in the OED, DARE, or the A-Man's dictionary, nor the O-Man's.

GAT, who's baffled.

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

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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