"blue laws", 1755

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Sep 30 02:34:28 UTC 2010

Very interesting, Geoff, thanks.  And an association with Puritan
history I didn't know about.  An origin of "blue laws" from the "blue
stockings" of Cromwell's parliament of 1653 sounds quite
plausible.  The New England Puritans would have been quite concerned
with how Cromwell's rule was faring, and were certainly in sympathy
with the notion of dressing cheaply and plainly.

You wrote:
>So even if Peters coined 'blue laws' itself, he may have been using
>'blue' in a sense already familiar to the colonists.

Of course, he didn't coin it; we have quotations from 1755 and 1762
-- both also, like Butler's, not in the OED yet, but in the ADS-L
archives.  (Peters was only 20 in 1755, and did not write his history
until 1781, perhaps provoked by resentment at the victory in the
Revolution of the patriots and, he may have thought, of the Puritan
Congregationalists; he was an Anglican clergyman.)

We now only have to find a citation for "blue laws" some time between
1653 and 1755!

Re Butler's quotation, "For his religion... 'twas Presbyterian true
blue." --  I wonder whether Butler, like some in Old England and
probably more than a few colonial Anglicans outside New England,
confused or conflated the Presbyterians he knew from Scotland with
the Congregationalists of New England. (For both, a congregation was
governed by elders, and chose its pastor.)


At 9/29/2010 08:22 PM, Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:
There's a discussion of this sense of 'blue' in a nice essay by
>Kenneth M Morris, "Blue as a Marker of Intensification" (AS 51,1/2,
>1976), which takes up a range of uses of 'blue' as an intensifier
>(e.g.   ___ murder, true ___,  ___ sky, ___ in the face, ___ funk, ___
>blazes, ___ streak, "as clear as ___ mud," etc.). He suggests that the
>"blue laws" sense of the adj. had its origin when 17th c Scotch
>Presbyterians adopted blue worsted rather than black silk stockings to
>signal their opposition to foppery and faddishness (vd the Blue
>Stocking Parliament of 1653), which in turn turned the preexisting
>'true blue' into "a derisive epithet for those who looked with
>disfavor upon the licentiousness of the times." The OED doesn't give
>this sense of 'blue' or 'true blue', but it's in Farmer and Henley,
>who cite Butler in Hudibras (1673): "For his religion... 'twas
>Presbyterian true blue." They explain this use of 'blue' via the
>Covenanters' desire to oppose themselves to the royal red.
>Whatever the motivation for of this use of '(true) blue,' Morris
>conjectures that it came to America with the colonists and influenced
>the notions of 'blue laws'. This isn't wildly implausible -- at the
>least it can't be concluded that the phrase has no 17th c. roots , as
>the entry at snopes.com cited in Wikipedia suggests. So even if Peters
>coined 'blue laws' itself, he may have been using 'blue' in a sense
>already familiar to the colonists.
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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