Q: "swear by forty"& "slab"(adj), 1831

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 20 17:05:48 UTC 2013

On Tue, Aug 20, 2013 at 12:40 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:

> I don't get the meanings of "swear by forty"and "slab" (although I
> can guess about the latter!) in the following quotation.  And where
> should they appear in the OED?
> "A captain of militia was in the habit of swearing 'by forty.'  He
> had, like many other officers who commanded 'slab' companies, a
> troublesome set of fellows to deal with."

Hmm, could "by forty" be similar to "like forty"?  OED has "like
forty" as a U.S. colloquialism meaning "with immense force or vigour,
‘like anything’," and shows an 1852 example from Uncle Tom's Cabin.

> I do not find any other (useful)  instances of "swear by forty" in
> Google Books or Web besides printings of the same article.  Except
> perhaps Samantha Dias's use of "swear by forty swords" in a poem
> dated Dec 5, 2011.

Google is pulling up a "swear by forty" in the Geneva Gazette
(1829-1832), but I haven't gone looking for the expression in the PDF
that's at the link offered.

-- Bonnie

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

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