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

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Aug 16 17:01:27 UTC 2015

JL wrote:
> Irrespective of any ads, the phrase could still have originated in the
> literal sense of "gone for a Burton."
> All it would take would have been its adoption by say, members of a single
> aircrew, to mean simply "not here; away." The extension to "killed or
> missing in action" would not be difficult, and the phrase's novelty (aided
> by a beverage-related postulated origin) could do the rest.

I agree, JL. The "Time" magazine citation dated April 19, 1943 and the
"Flying" magazine citation dated May 1945 provide good support for the
explanation in which Burton referenced a beer. Dan's comment that
Burton referred to a type of beer instead of a brand name is
intriguing. There are many historical matches for "Burton ale". Here
is a remark about Burton ale's popularity:

Year: 2011
Title: Amber, Gold and Black
Author: Martyn Cornell
Publisher: The History Press

[Begin excerpt]
Today, however, Burton Ale is almost forgotten as a type of beer; a
style famous for a century and a half that became obsolete within a
couple of decades after the Second World War. Even in Britain, just a
handful of beers are still brewed regularly in the Old Burton mode,
and none of those bears the name Burton.
[End excerpt]

WorldCat has a listing for "Dictionary of RAF Slang" by Eric
Partridge; published by Michael Joseph in 1945. This book was
mentioned in the "Flying" magazine citation. I haven't seen it, but I
think it is a very good lead. Partridge says Burton referred to a beer
according to the "Flying" article.

Below is a citation from September 1942. The text below was from a
news service and it appeared in several newspapers in the
NewspaperArchive database. The content overlapped with a citation I
posted previously which employed the atypical meaning of "reprimand".
This instance was published earlier (1942), and it used a different
phrasing: "sent for a burton" instead of "went for a burton" or "gone
for a burton"

This citation may have been based on a misunderstanding.
Alternatively, multiple meanings were used until the
"missing/dead/broken" meaning became dominant.

Slang Text: One bought it; the other two sent for a burton.
Interpretation: One was killed; the other two were reprimanded severely.

Date: September 9, 1942
Newspaper: Daily Globe
Newspaper Location: Ironwood, Michigan
Article Title: It's Kings English:
Three Sprogs Pranged A Cheeseye and Here's A Translation Of The Latest
Expressions . . .
Article Author: Alfred Wall (Wide World)
Quote Page 9, Column 6
Database: NewspaperArchive

[Begin excerpt]
"Three ropey types, all sprogs, pranged a cheeseye on bumps and
circuits. One bought it; the other two sent for a burton. The
station-master took a dim view and tore them off a strip. They'd taken
along a shagboat officer, who was browned off. The queen bee was
hopping mad."

Give up?

It's an RAF man speaking. And it is the king's English . . ., well,
the RAF's kind of king's English.

Literally translated here, is what he said:

"Three unpopular individuals, all brand new pilot officers, crashed a
wornout airplane while practicing circuits and landings. One was
killed; the other two were reprimanded severely. The station commander
disapproved strongly and roundly berated them. They had taken along
with them a somewhat plain W. A. A. F. officer, who was bored. The
station's W. A. A. F. commander was very angry."
[End excerpt]


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

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