"blowing" = "blowen" (and the OED)

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Fri Oct 10 02:12:22 UTC 2014


Was I incorrect in saying that "blowing" is *not* in HDAS as a
headword?  As I said, I didn't look for "blowen", and so don't know
if "blowing" is an alternate there.



You're right that "blowing" doesn't occur as a headword in HDAS, although 
"blowen" does, and quite rightly too since by the time the term is found in 
Americas in the 1780s, and thereafter, it is invariably found in the later 
version of what is presumably a series of orthographic representations of 
what was as spoken a single form.  Under BLOWEN in HDAS, Jon adds, "Also 

But there actually is a problem here, as to whether we should treat a set of 
terms as separate, or simple spelling variants.  My own feeling is that the 
set of terms blower/blowing/blowen are significant variants, while the 
(later) set blowen/bloan/blone are primarily spelling variants.

That said, and back to specifics ...

Jon's entry on "blowen" in HDAS correctly begins with the earliest version 
to be found, Richard Head's _Canting Academy_ of 1673 (the term doesn't 
appear in Head's earlier and smaller glossary in _The English Rogue_ of 
1665).  There Head defines:  "BLOWER One man's particular wench."

Independently, in 1688, Thomas Shadwell uses the form BLOWING in _The Squire 
of Alsatia_, both in the glossary prefixed to the play and (I think a total 
of five times) in the body of the text.

Shadwell's glossarial entry reads as follows:  "_Blowing, Natural, 
Convenient, Tackle, Buttock, Pure, Purest pure_. Several names for a 
mistress, or rather a whore."

Both Head and Shadwell were used as a resource by B.E. in _The New 
Dictionary of the Canting Crew_ (c. 1699), where rather than choosing 
between the two, B.E. gives both forms, while using the definition given by 
Shadwell rather than Head:

            Blower, c. a Mistress, also a Whore.
            Blowing, c. the same.

The anonymous 1725 revision of B.E. in _The New Canting Dictionary_ retains 
the BLOWER entry but removes BLOWING.

Jump forward to 1823, and the second (of only three) citations in the OED 
under the headword BLOWEN:

        1823   Byron Don Juan: Canto XI xix. 112   With black-eyed Sal (his 

This should probably be labelled "historical".   For this passage in _Don 
Juan_, Byron was drawing on a poem supplied by his old boxing tutor 
Gentleman John Jackson called "The Dog and Duck Rig", dating probably from 
the 1780s and beginning, "Each night at the Duck Rig and Puppy,/ What a 
swell by the side of your blowing ..."

It would be nice if (Byron apart) the presence of the form "blowing" allowed 
us to date a text to before 1800, but I'm not sure it's as solid as that.

As to the BLOWEN form, GDoS lists several possibilities before 1788, but I'm 
not absolutely convinced by any of them.  Whether or not it provides the 
earliest citations, the series of dictionaries by or based on the work of 
Francis Grose demonstrates how that form gradually comes to be the 
predominant one by (at least) 1811.

Here's a summary of the Grose entries in _A Classical Dictionary of the 
Vulgar Tongue_, and derived texts:

The word “blowen” does not appear at all in the first (1785) edition, occurs 
once as a parallel to another entry in 1788, and twice in that fashion in 
1796.  Instead, the word-of-choice is “blower”. Then in 1811, “blower” 
vanishes completely, to be replaced in every instance by “blowen”, and a 
whole host of new instances of “blowen” appear as part of the illustrations 
for other words.

1785         has no entry for, or even occurrence of, BLOWEN but has 
instead, what disappears later, BLOWER.
1788         has BLOWEN once, not as a head word but an alternative for 
BLOWER, and retains RUM BLOWER
1796         BLOWEN now linked to BLOSS and BLOWER, but RUM BLOWER remains 
as it was.
1811         BLOWEN is used as a head word for the first time, with the 
definition taken over and expanded from the previous BLOWER, while BLOWER 
itself disappears completely.   BLOWEN also occurs for the first time within 
illustrative examples of other headwords.
1823         The only change Egan makes is to add BLOW, a prostitute.  Egan 
also includes BLONE from David Haggart’s _Life_ (1821), where it had 
appeared in both the text (several times) and the glossary.

Robin Hamilton

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

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