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

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Aug 20 18:24:51 UTC 2013

At 8/20/2013 01:05 PM, Bonnie Taylor-Blake wrote:
>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 would say yes, thanks.  And perhaps "by forty" (adj. sense b) is
sufficiently new/interesting/antedates 1852 for the OED.

> > 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.

I did.  It's the same article, and I assume Geneva is New York State,
like the _Constellation_.  (Various other articles and the
advertisements suggest that it's not Switzerland.)  But one gets only
one page, and with no running header to yield a date.  I didn't find
the _Constellation_ in 18th Century U.S. Newspapers, but perhaps
someone else will find it somewhere.


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