[Ads-l] go for a "Burton"--a 1944 etymology guess (UNCLASSIFIED)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Aug 16 15:24:02 UTC 2015

Thanks for your responses, and thanks to Stephen for initiating the
discussion. I am not sure when individuals attempting to explain "gone
for a burton" began to mention an advertising campaign. Below are two
examples from 1978 and 1987. In 1978 a letter was printed in an
Australian newspaper. The letter writer remembers the tagline "Where's
George?" which does suggest that he misremembered the advertisement
campaign for Lyon's teashops; however, he also stated that the
advertisements were presented in two phases. He may have been
conflating more than one type of advertisement.

Date: October 23, 1978
Newspaper: The Sydney Morning Herald
Newspaper Location: Sydney, Australia
Section: Letters to the editor
Letter Title: To 'go for a Burton'
Letter From: S. G. Young (ex RAF), Creighton Avenue, Morphett Vale,
South Australia
Quote Page 6, Column 6
Database: Google News Archive

Short link: http://bit.ly/1hFXR9Q

[Begin excerpt]
SIR, The origin of the phrase "Gone for a Burton" (Letters, October
14) is to be found in a huge pictorial advertisement which made its
appearance in London and the counties during the immediate pre-way

The advertisement was a two-phase one; the first part posed the
question "Where's George?" and when sufficient time had elapsed in
which people's curiosity was thoroughly aroused, the answer, "Gone for
a Burton," was added to the advertisement hoardings. The pictorial
part depicted a work-man to whom the question had been put, and the
inference was that his mate had popped out for a quick one and that
the quality of the brew was such as to justify unusual risks, such as
his foreman's wrath and the continuance of his employment, being
[End excerpt]

In 1987 the columnist William Morris relayed an explanation he had
received from a correspondent about the origin of the phrase "gone for
a burton". The advertisement campaign described was similar to the one
used for Lyon's teashops; hence, this explanation might have been
based on a flawed memory.

Date: August 24, 1987
Newspaper: Toledo Blade
Newspaper Location: Toledo, Ohio
Section: Peach Section
Article: Words...Wit...Wisdom
Article Author: William Morris
Quote Page P1, Column 3

Short link: http://bit.ly/1NbmZCr

[Begin excerpt; please double check for OCR errors]
Now Anthony Bowdler writes: "I believe it possible that I may have
identified a more certain origin for the expression. 'Go for a burton'
was used almost exclusively as a euphemism for being killed in action
or, at best, to be missing in action. It was most characteristically
used in the RAF.

"I distinctly recall a poster campaign in the late 1930s, advertising
a Burton, which was the name of a beer, in much the same way as one
might now refer to 'a Budweiser' The posters would show a group with
someone obviously missing with the laconic legend. Gone for a Burton.
I have little doubt that this was easily translated into common useage
when its alternative meaning was increasingly required."

That examination of the origin of the euphemism strikes me as entirely
[End excerpt]


On Sun, Aug 16, 2015 at 4:51 AM, Michael Quinion
<michael.quinion at worldwidewords.org> wrote:
> Garson O'Toole wrote:
>> One explanation offered concerns a U.K. advertising campaign with
>> featuring a missing person. I have found evidence of a campaign of
>> this type in the late 1930s, but it was not for Burton's beer; it was
>> for a restaurant. See further below and click on the link to see the
>> cartoon advertisements in LIFE magazine.
> Lyon's teashops were an institution before the Second World War, part of
> the fabric of English life, and continued so for some while after it. I
> vaguely remember being taken to one in London for a special treat about
> 1949.
> It seems more than probable that vague memories of these advertisements
> were the inspiration behind the mistaken story about ads for Burton's
> beer. It resolves a loose end rather neatly. Thanks, Garson!
> Incidentally, it looks at first from the dating that the ads played on the
> title of a British comedy film of late 1935 about rugby league, "Where's
> George?", starring Sydney Howard and Mabel Constanduros. (Its title was
> changed partway through its run because of the death of George V in
> January 1936.)
> But a reference on 24 November 1933 in the Sevenoaks Chronicle of Kent
> about "George" not returning from "Lyonch" and so missing the bus suggests
> the ads predate the film (though no British examples have turned up in
> searches), that the tagline of the Lyons adverts had already become a
> catchphrase, and that the influence was the other way.
> --
> Michael Quinion
> World Wide Words
> Web: http://www.worldwidewords.org

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

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