"spend a penny" -- the TLS is at it again.

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Mon Oct 10 16:53:09 UTC 2011

Footnotes in the edition of Humphry Clinker I am reading refer to several
academic studies of Winifred's language from the 1960s, which I had intended
to look at, when available to me.  But the Daffey's Elixir explanation
sounds pretty good, and I think I won't bother.
I wonder whether the retail price of a bottle of Daffey's might have been a
penny?  Hard to imagine a single penny buying very much by the mid 18th C;
still, as the old rhyme says, "if you don't have a penny, a ha'penny will
do", so perhaps.

At the least, "bum-taffy" can't be supposed to be a real word (ahem), worthy
of the OED, if it's only found in a letter supposedly from a not very
literate person whose writing is full of misspellings, misunderstandings,
malapropisms, &c.

One does find the damned stuff in Wikipedia, doesn't one.


On Sat, Oct 8, 2011 at 7:53 PM, Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com>wrote:

> Douglas G. Wilson wrote
> > Somebody has made the assertion or speculation (I saw it on-line but I
> > can't find it now) that "bum-taffy" was a deliberate malapropism
> > referring to Daffy's Elixir, an old laxative (which has a Wikipedia
> page).
> The following book in GB that provides explanations for "Winisms" also
> connects "bum-taffy" to the specific item "Daffey's Elixir, a
> laxative"
> Title: Bulletin of the New York Public Library.
> Author: New York Public Library.
> Publisher: New York, New York Public Library.
> Volume: 68
> Year: 1964
> (Google Books snippet view; Data not verified may inaccurate;
> HathiTrust has also has a match for "bum-taffy" in the same Volume 68
> and claims the year is 1964)
> <Begin extracted text>
> buckled, crisped and curled long hair, Ba, Jo, K, OED.
> bumbeseens. a Winism for bombasin or bombasine, a cloth made of silk
> and cotton, Ba, Jo, K, OED. It may also be a Winism for a dress made
> of this material,
> bum-taffy, a Winism for a dose of Daffey's Elixir, a laxative,
> carrying-crow, a Winism for carrion crow.
> changing, "to put one thing in the place of another," K. Often used
> with chopping.
> <End extracted text>
> http://books.google.com/books?id=H7kqAQAAIAAJ&q=taffy#search_anchor
> Garson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list