[Ads-l] "full Monty" notes

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Tue Aug 11 14:21:49 UTC 2015

It has often been observed that some early attestations of "the full monty" are from Northern England, but it is not always noted that what may be the second-earliest known text was also published there, in Sheffield. In Mountain (magazine), 1981. Perhaps earlier uses are also in northern in periodicals allowing informal language, such as, e.g., The Sheffield Spectator (Social, Sporting and Industrial Life of Sheffield) 1965-.

Field Marshall Montgomery was well known for all-out effort, though a specific link to the phrase has not been established. For instance, in a message, then-secret but eventually much-discussed, Monty in Sept. 1944 urged upon Eisenhower a single "full blooded thrust" to Berlin, which would have, among other things, diverted resources from not-shy Gen. Patton. Later, when making his case orally, Ike responded; "Steady, Monty. You can't talk to me like that...."

Montague Burton, though relatively somewhat lesser known, and evidently much less-often known as Monty (suits were called Burtons, for sure, and, maybe, Montys), is the favorite of some commenters, yet the link again is not proven. Among the many options, might more than one Monty have been involved rather than a necessary even/or? A full dress suit might fit both.

The Tailor of Panama by John le Carré, though published in 1996 is worth noting (as Michael Quinion did). Its date, at least, is before the famous movie, a movie which may have flipped the meaning from the full clothing to the full unclothing. Of course it is fiction, but presumably intended by the skilled author to be realistic when a character, Uncle Benny, is remembered as having used the phrase "the full Monty" twenty years earlier. Benny, a tailor, was a Jewish immigrant to the UK, from Lithuania (sometime borders)--as was Meshe David Osinsky, Montague Maurice Burton.

The 1979 use (reported by Fred Shapiro) has a TV exec in a pub apparently up north "sitting there with the full monty on, big gold rings, all that." This was oral history apparently transcribed by a reporter, so I would not make too much of the lower case m (after all, it's not in quotes, either). Is that a full suit and accessories or the full decorations, bling? (Remember: gold.)

If only, in the north of England, slightly earlier, closer to 1979 than Burton, who died in 1952, there was some remarkable suit, and a tailor named Monty.

As luck would have it, "O Lucky Man!", a surrealistic 1973 film, has just that. Maybe relevant, maybe not--either as influence for or influence by the phrase. There are different length movie cuts (in releases, 2 DVDs, and some youtube), so page numbers of the 1973 published script may be best used, if detailed discussion is sought. (If there is interest, I'll expand.) In a northern boarding house the protagonist, a ground-coffee salesman (Malcolm McDowell), who has just been assigned the northeast of England (complete with boundaries and a map) is given a "golden-thread" suit by Monty (just Monty, no last name given) the tailor (Ralph Richardson)--and it fits. It seems to protect him, though his wished girlfriend (played by Helen Mirren) looks at it and says "nylon" and "not all that glitters is gold."

Stephen Goranson


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

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