"shoot the pit", cock-fighting slang; post-dating

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Thu Jul 21 14:39:09 UTC 2011

A few days ago, I came upon a story from an 1825 newspaper relating to a
breach-of-promise suit brought in New Paltz by a slave-woman against a black
man; I posted it here at the time.  I also sent it to a friend, Shane White,
of the Univ. of Sydney, who has written a number of books on the 18th & 19th
C black community of NYC.  He replied that he had seen it, and sent a
follow-up story.  This story gives an appr. 90 year post-dating of the
expression "shoot the pit", as well as giving it in an American context.

*New York Spectator* May 10, 1825.

*Breach of the Marriage Promise*. -- A gentleman from Ulster county, who was
present at the trial of the sable gentry for a breach of the marriage
promise, the report of which originally appeared in this paper, says, that
when the jury awarded ten dollars damages, Cuff darted out of court -- shot
the pit as the fancy call it -- and was pursued through the village by Coon
Crook, the constable, and half the boys, when he was caught and brought
back. Cuff has been admitted to the privileges of the limits at Big
Sopus. *N.Y.
Nat. Adv*.

A I 4 †*c.* to shoot the pit : of a fighting cock, to rush out of the
cockpit from cowardice. Often *fig.* *Obs.*
1675    A. Marvell *Let. to Sir H.
*,   He hath a month ago shot the pit‥he hath thought convenient to passe
over into Holland.
1681    *Heraclitus
* 30 Aug. 2/2   Two or three more such stroaks will make them shoot the Pit.
*a*1734    R. North
* (1740) ii. v. ⁋19 327   Which made the whole Party shoot the Pit and
retire, as not caring to be pointed at with ill-favoured Reflections.


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

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

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