Nelson, half-Nelson, double-Nelson

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Oct 22 07:02:19 UTC 2011

Nelson n.2 [all versions] 1889
full Nelson --> 1875
half-Nelson --> 1888
double-Nelson --> 1887
quarter-Nelson [not mentioned] --> 1893
three-quarter-Nelson [not mentioned] --> 1897

OED WOTD yesterday was Nelson n.1--all things having to do with the
Admiral. However, I was interested in the /other/ Nelson: Nelson n.2:

> Etymology: Origin uncertain; perhaps < the name of Horatio, Viscount
> Nelson : see Nelson n.1
> Wrestling.
> A hold in which both arms are passed under an opponent's arms from
> behind and the hands or wrists are clasped on the back of the neck
> (usu. double nelson, full nelson); (also) a hold in which one arm is
> thrust under the opponent's corresponding arm and the hand placed on
> the back of the opponent's neck (usu. half nelson). Also fig.
> 1889 W. Armstrong Wrestling 233 Probably the most dangerous move in
> Lancashire and Cornwall and Devon wrestling‥is what is called the
> ‘Double Nelson’.

Oddly enough, all citations prior to the 1980s are English, with the
exception of the 1893 Lippincott Magazine. MWOLD also gives 1889 for
half-nelson and 1900 for full nelson. Wiki gives a full lineup,
including the quarter nelson and three-quarter nelson, all illustrated
by photos from a 1912 correspondence course. Wiki also mentions a
tenuous connection to Admiral Nelson, citing his use of the surrounding
pincer maneuver at Trafalgar--but it disclaims any firm knowledge of the
term's origin.

A GB search immediately pays dividends, but only by one year, at first.
Our police: A History of the Baltimore Force from the First Watchman to
the Latest Appointee. Edited by De Francias Folsom. Baltimore, MD: 1888
Chapter 14. The Police Gymnasium (p. 423). p. 459
> Spellman won the first fall and in trying to get sergeant Meehan over
> on the second bout by a "half Nelson and arm hold," he sprained the
> latter's arm so badly that Dr. P. Bryson Wood, who was in the
> audience, was summoned to look after the injury.

Continuing the American theme, there is also an 1889 appearance.
The Medical visitor. Volume 5. By Temple S. Hoyne. Chicago: 1889
Dr. Brown and Dr. de Smith. A Tragedy. p. 180
> Dr. B. makes no reply, but seizes the collar; Dr. de S. grasps the
> other end of it. Then begins a silent but desperate struggle, while a
> heavy foot is heard on the lowest step of the creaking stairs. Dr. B.
> gets a half Nelson on Dr. de S., wlto responds by a sort of clinging
> vine twist around Dr. B.'s legs.

Half-Nelson is also mentioned as an illustration in Volume 12 of The
Badminton Library--the volume on fencing, boxing and wrestling. The book
undoubtedly has some accompanying text, but Notes on Books, November 30,
1889, only has a list of illustrations.

Changing the term to "full-nelson" gets more hits.
Spalding's Library of Athletic Sports. Handbook of Sporting Rules and
Training. Chicago/New York: 1886
Wrestling Rules. Catch as Catch Can. p. 64
> Striking, kicking, gouging, butting, pulling hair, full-nelson,
> hanging, or doing anything to injure an opponent, shall be considered
> foul.
Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature Science and Art. Volume 52.
Fourth Series, No. 591. London/Edinburgh: April 24, 1875
Lancashire Recreation. p. 267
> Again the wrestlers grapple, and again go down to writhe and grovel on
> the muddy field. Presently, Stubbs, the more skilful as well as the
> more powerful of the twain, seizes the luckless Jumper in a terrible
> gripe, known to the initiated as the Full Nelson.

One more for "double Nelson".
The Michigan Argonaut. Volume 6(6). Ann Arbor, MI: November 12, 1887
A Successful Field Day. p. 48/1
> The first round in the heavy weight wrestling was between Malley and
> Harless. The latter got a double Nelson on Malley, but finally lost
> the round. Then followed a round between Jackson and Miller, which the
> former won by two successive falls. Harless and Malley then locked horns.

Same bout from a different perspective:
The Chronicle. Volume 19(4). Ann Arbor, MI: November 12, 1887
Field Day. p. 41/2
> Much interest was shown in the next event, the heavy weight
> catch-as-catch-can wrestling, W. C. Malley and W. W. Harless were the
> first pair and Malley won two falls, the first by a claim of foul on a
> "double Nelson" lock, the second by a fair throw. J G. Jackson then
> threw A. M. Miller twice in succession, and after a rest met Malley in
> the ring for the final bout.

The quarter-Nelson does not show up until the 1893 Lippincott article
that's already in the OED:
Lippincott Monthly Magazine. February 1893
Wrestling. [Athletic Series.] By Herman F. Wolff. p. 212
> Of the other holds, those most practised are the leg and arm,
> half-Nelson and crotch, quarter-Nelson, back-hammer, lock- and
> half-Nelson, double bridge, back-body, neck and arm, hip-lock,
> head-lock, side-roll, and elevated arm and leg hold,--all of which
> would require separate illustrations to make them intelligible to the
> general public.

Three-quarter Nelson might have had to wait another five years, but
shows up on both sides of the Atlantic.
A hand-book of wrestling. By Hugh F. Leonard. New York: 1897
p. 229
> Three-quarter Nelson (Position 198).--This is the last, but by no
> means the least, important of the Nelson holds. ... The other method
> of securing a three-quarter Nelson is where the aggressor's two arms
> pass under the left armpit of his opponent, the position being
> otherwise the same as that just described. This hold is more difficult
> to obtain, but more effective when secured.
Every boy's book of sport and pastime. Edited by Professor Hoffmann.
London: 1897
Chapter III. Lancashire Style: Catch-As-Catch-Can. p. 317
> The principal chips in this style are the double-Nelson, the half and
> three-quarter-Nelson, the lock, ham and leg, the flying-mare, heave
> and leg-holding.
> ...
> The Three-Quarter-Nelson (Fig. 7)
> But the most useful of all known Lancashire chips is the
> three-quarter-Nelson, in which you grasp your opponent round the neck
> with both hands, without allowing him to get a similar hold.

It seems that the terminology might have existed in the US, but one
still cannot discount the possibility that it might have originated in
Britain. So both the regional origin and the etymology remain a mystery,
despite a few additions.


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