"gold dust" -- fig. (not in OED) 1739; concrete 1704
aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 27 11:44:50 UTC 2010
[Summary for Jesse Sheidlower's benefit--straight use from 1692; "Dust
in gold"--defined from 1688; "Dust-gold"--straight, from 1669; "Dust of
gold"--straight from 1634, figurative from 1681--or 1611 for both, if
you can see it that way; plus some possible Shakespearean interference.]
[I checked many variations on spelling, but did not look at any
I do want to point out that OED /does/ contain a reference to figurative
use--it's the 1837 entry that relates to the same
Gold-dust-in-the-eye-blinds metaphor that's found in Dryden.
> /fig/. *1837* H. MARTINEAU /Soc. Amer/. II. 368 The day will come when
> their eyes will be cleansed from the gold-dust which blinds them.
I will never understand the logic of OED selections. The next one is not
antedating OED, but kinda sorta important. Why include 1703 and 1705
pieces together (such proximity seems to be avoided in other entries)
and not a landmark piece of prose for 1719?
The Life And Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe ;
ByDaniel Defoe [The monkeys at GB have it literally as "BY ROBINSON
CRUSOE"], 1719 [quoted from the 6th ed., 1722]
> ...in a Word, this Voyage made me both a Sailor and a Merchant : For I
> brought home 5 pound 9 Ounces of Gold-Dust for my Adventure, which
> yielded me in /London/ at my Return, almost 300 /l/. and this filled
> me with those aspiring Thoughts which have since so compleated my Ruin.
The next two, however, antedate the literal.
A Voyage to the East-Indies. By Gabriel Dellon. 1698
Part I, Chap. I. p. 3
> This was a Ship belonging to /Diep/, which was bound to /Senegal/,
> where they Trade in Ivory, Feathers and Gold-Dust ; the Captain's Name
> was /Le Moyne/, and having thus continued our Voyage together we left
> him near the Mouth of the River /Niger/, directing our Course to /Cape
> Verd/, where we arrived in 6 Weeks, after our first departure out
Part II, Chap. II. p. 142
> Among the Sands of the Shoar there is good store of Gold Dust, which
> is very fine, and every Body has the freedom to gather it at pleasure
> ; the biggest piece that ere I saw, was not worth above 15 Pence, and
> commonly they are not worth above 4 or 5 Pence a piece, abundance of
> people get a livelihood by it ; and with consent of the Governour
> (which is to be purchased by a certain set Price, for the maintenance
> of 100 Poor people,) you may have as much Sand as you please, carried
> to your Dwelling-places, in order to separate it with the most
Of course, all the otherwise literal and figurative citations are
otherwise preceded by John Dryden's The Spanish Fryar that Garson found,
which dates back to 1681.
So my goal now is to track back beyond 1681, at least, for the literal
meaning. I am certain that OED early date of 1703 can be beaten just
with GB records (which do not contain Dryden's 1st ed.).
First, establish that the record is unambiguous and we are not on a
wild-goose chase for an accidental word combination.
The Roman History, from the Settlement of the Empire by Augustus Caesar,
To the Removal of the Imperial Seat by Constantine the Great. Vol. II.
By Laurence Echard. 1706
Chap. VI. Gallienus XXXIII. p. 481
> His Services were all Gold beset with Jewels, the Powder for his Hair
> of Gold-Dust ; and he continually diverted himself with Mimicks and
> Buffoons, and bath'd with Women of all Ages.
On the surface, the date of publication is 1706--beyond the lowest OED
bound. Here's where it gets interesting. The catalogue date on the GB
copy (Michigan, apparently) says 1696. Worldcat is barely helpful--it
has a whole range of dates and most appear to be just plain wrong.
Library holdings are not necessarily helpful either--for example, the
Harvard record claims different editions for four volumes, with no
further information on the specific dates for each. Laurence Echard's
own bio dates are also unsettled. Everywhere I looked he is listed as
1670?-1730, which would have made him 25-26 at the time of the
publication of the first volume--ambitious, but not impossible. WorldCat
dates range from 1696 to 1720, but also without elaboration. And the
specific dates listed for each entry don't correspond to the library
catalogue records they are linked to--e.g., the Harvard record says
1719, but it's linked to the WorldCat record for 1702.
In any case, it's all irrelevant, but I did want to mention the
complexities. The reason I am not certain about the 1706 imprint date is
because I am not sure it is the 1st edition.
Here's a blend of the first two OED citations--an early citation about
A Continuation of a Voyage to New-Holland, &c. In the Yaer 1699. By
Captain William Dampier. London, 1709
Dampier's Voyages. Vol. III. Part II.
[All pages dated] An. 1699. Chapter 4, The main Land of New Guinea. Its
Inhabitants. p. 125 [GB says 119]
> I also shew'd them some Gold-Dust, which they seem'd to know, and
> called out /Manneel/, /Manneel/, and pointed toward the Land.
The volume says 1709, but the notes are for 1699. To make matters worse,
Part I of the volume, which is bundled at the front, is from 1703--no
idea how it's going to be treated, but it's really a moot point. The
reference points to the fact that the use of "Gold-Dust" as a single
term was widespread, in at least some circles, prior to 1699. So that
sets us on a gallop backward.
Not surprisingly, here's Gallienus again with his hair powder.
Musaeum regalis societatis. Or a Catalogue & Description Of the Natural
and Artificial Rarities Belonging to the Royal Society And preserved at
Gresham College. By Nehemiah Grew. 1681
Sect. 3. Of Metals. p. 323
The Uses of /Gold/ for Vessels, Coins, Armour, Garments, &c. are
infinite. The Luxury of /Galienus/ the Emperour, taught him to powder
his Hair with the Dust of Gold.
The preceding page is entirely devoted to the gold ore and /gold sand/,
so there is a distinction between gold sand and gold dust that appears
to be absent in the later text on New Guinea.
But this is still "Dust of Gold". Where is "Gold Dust"?
Chymicvs Rationalis : Or, the Fundamental Grounds of the Chymical Art,
Rationally Stated and Demonstrated By Various Examples ... . By W.
Y-Worth [Geboortigh tot Shipham, & Borger van Rotterdam]. 1692
Of Gold-dust , of Salt-Petre , of Roch-Allom , of Salt  ; put
them into a Retort, and add thereunto four Quarts of Water ; set it in a
Sand-Furnace, and put to it a Receiver ; encrease the fire, and let it
boil till it be dry ; put away the yellow part of it ad beat the other
in a Glass Mortar, into Powder; ...
Rx Of the /Regulus/ of Antimony , fine Gold-dust , and flux them
together with Niter and Tartar, and reduce the Gold several times, till
it al comes to a Scory ; the which dulcifie in Water or Spirit of Wine,
then make this following /Menstruum/.
This is not quite 1681, but it still shaves another 12 years off the OED
Perhaps another 4 years can be shaved off by "gold in dust".
The Royal Commentaries on Peru, in Two Parts. By Garcilasso de la Vega;
tr. by Sir Paul Rycaut. 1688
Book VIII. Chap XXIV. Of Gold and Silver. p. 344
> There is Gold found in all the parts of /Peru/, some more, and some
> less generally in every Province. It is found on top or surface of the
> Earth, carried by streams and currents, and washed down by great
> flouds of Rain, which the /Indians/ gather and put into water,
> separating it from the Earth, as the Silver-smiths do the filings,
> which fall in their shops. That which is found in this manner, is
> called Gold in dust, because it is like filings ; some of which are
> indifferently big, and about the fashion of a Mellon-seed, some are
> round, and others of an oval form ; all the Gold of /Peru/ is about
> eighteen or twenty Quilats, more or less, in goodness, onely that
> which comes from the Mines of /Callavaya/, or /Callahuaya/, is of the
> finest sort, being twenty four Quilats and better, as I have been
> informed by some Gold-smiths in/Spain/.
Although it is not quite "gold dust", it does give a precise definition
/and/ explanation for the terminology, which is about as good as can be
hoped for. This could be a calque from the Spanish original (I have no
idea) or it could be the first use of Gold-dust, which is a more
convenient way of expressing the same thing--certainly later use,
particularly in African and New Guinea travels, matches the definition
If not "gold dust" pre-1681, why not "dust-gold"?
Philosophical Transactions. Num. 6. November 6, 1665
> A peculiar way of washing out very small /Dust-gold/, p. 198.
Not sure what to do with Shakespeare. There is a line in Anthony and
Cleopatra, Act 2, Scene 5, mentioning the shower of gold and hail of
pearls. The commentary connect this to Milton and specifically refers to
"gold-dust". I found it in a couple of mid-18th century editions (can't
check the date right now), but can't trace it back as to who made the
comment or when it was recorded. If it's Pope, it's fairly late. But if
it predates him, well, it gets more interesting.
But there is also the matter of King John, Act 3, Scene 3.
> /K. John/. Tho' you and all the Kings of Christendom
> Are led so grossly by this medling Priest,
> Dreading the curse, that mony may buy out ;
> And buy the merit of vile gold, dross, dust,
> Purchase corrupted pardon of a man,
> Who in that sale sells pardon from himself :
Now, just reading it straight, there is no "gold dust" here. But if
"dross" is a kind of interjection
[vile gold [dross] dust], then there is a problem. Of course, there is a
possible straight reading
[vile gold][dross][dust]. I'll leave it as ambiguous and will not count
it. [Is it me or is the second "buy" really "by"?][Checked another
edition--yes, it should be "by".]
"Dust of Gold" goes back still further.
The Saints Treasure. ... Being sundry Sermons preached in London, by the
late Reverend and painfull Minister of the Gospel, Jeremiah Burroughes. 1654
> If there be but one dust of Gold, though it be mixt with abundance of
> drosse, God will not loose it, but will finde it out : God he is not
> strict to mark what is done amisse by his children, but he is strict
> to mark what is done well by them.
The Christian Warfare. The First Part. By Iohn Downame. 1634
Chap.27. p. 610/1
> So that though wee haue neuer so great an heape of this shining dust
> of gold and siluer, yet if hee but blow vpon it, it will presently
> flie away, as himselfe speaketh by his prophet.
These two are very suggestive. Other 17th century GB hits also point in
the same direction. "Dust of Gold" holds special significance. There are
indirect references also in Pilgrim's Progress and Paradise Lost,
although neither one uses the specific phrase. But, the key may well be
The stones of it are the place of sapphires : and it hath dust of gold.
On 3/26/2010 7:25 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
> "gold dust" fig., not in OED.
> Boston News-Letter; Date: From Thursday January 4, to Thursday
> January 11, 1739; Issue: 1816; Page: , col. 1.
> Advices, London, October 11, 1738.
> Some of the High Germans seem now to have rubb'd the French Gold-Dust
> out of their Eyes,& begin to see that the French are but lukewarm in
> the Emperor's Interest in the pretended mediation with the Ottoman
> Port; a wonderful Discovery this! that a Prince of Bourbon should be
> a feint Friend to the House of Austria; When were the Galls ever true
> to the Germans?
> [There is an early concrete use of "gold dust" in the Boston
> News-Letter of 1704 May 29, p. 1. The OED's earliest two quotations
> are 1703, 1705.]
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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