"blowing out"

Fri Mar 28 18:50:00 UTC 2008

        It sounds like a spring dance, apparently held at the equinox,
to celebrate that the longer days make the use of candles unnecessary.
>From Alexander Blaikie, A History of Presbyterianism in New England 415
- 16 (1881) (Google Books full text):

        <<On going thither [to Lowell, Massachusetts] in the evening on
March 20th, the writer found the extensive factories all illuminated.
The sight was pleasant and the question, "Why?" was answered by, "It is
the blowing out ball." For the next six months the factories would not
be operated by artificial light. Hence the _dance_ to-night.>>

        I think the "blowing out until day-light" reference simply means
that the dance lasted all night.  The sexual association is apparently
mild enough to give little disturbance to a 19th century Presbyterian

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of George Thompson
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2008 9:47 AM
Subject: "blowing out"

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
         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

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

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