[Ads-l] Crab shell: a musican instrument of some sort (1798)

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sun May 8 15:05:34 UTC 2016


J. B.  Why is "Crab" capitalized but "shell" not?

This is how the writer often capitalized phrases: a fire "near the New
Coffee house"; "we went to the Beach beyond Corlaer's hook" [still
so-called, I think: the extreme eastern point of the Lower East Side]; "Powles
hook Ferry stairs [Powles Hook = Jersey City]; "Robertson's Printing office"


GAT

On Fri, May 6, 2016 at 8:18 PM, Joel Berson <berson at att.net> wrote:

> Something more to think about -- Why is "Crab" capitalized but "shell"
> not?  Also, for that reason not a musician's name.
>
>
> If a musical instrument, not a literal crab shell, too small and/or not
> arced sufficiently?  Since the reference to "strung" suggests something
> bowed, or perhaps plucked.
>
>
> On the coach side, try Googling Books for "crabbe shell"!  Citations to
> the Gentleman's Magazine quote "The Water Poet", [John] Taylor (who is much
> before 1798), as saying "A Coach was a straunge monster in those dayes, &
> the sight of one put both horse & man into amazement. Some said it was a
> great *crabbe-shell* brought out of China ; & some imagined it to be one
> of the Pagan Temples, in which the caniballs ...".  Provocative?
>
>
> Joel
>
>
> ------------------------------
> *From:* George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU>
> *To:* ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> *Sent:* Friday, May 6, 2016 6:50 PM
> *Subject:* [ADS-L] Crab shell: a musican instrument of some sort (1798)
>
>             I got ready by 11, and we seated ourselves in the Boston Mail
> Stage -- The sleighing was very good and we glided as far as Marreners at
> Rye by 5 in the after-noon -- This was to be our resting place 'till
> morning, and a consultation was held to determine a method for spending the
> long evening. -- I went with part of the company to the Church and heard
> part of the Service -- when we return'd Marenner inform'd us that the
> *Crab*
> *shell* was come -- it was strung left-handed so that none of us could
> handle it, but the owner, and we were obliged to hear the old negro murder
> some tunes in cold blood, -- In order that they might not be heard in cold
> blood a dance was propos'd . . .
>           Alexander Anderson's New York City Diary, vol. 2, p. 586, entry
> for December 24, 1798
>
> As I was reading this, I at first supposed that the "*Crab* *shell*" was
> the name of a stage coach stopping at the inn; but, "it was strung
> left-handed so that none of us could handle it" -- hmm.
> The writer frequently entertained his family and friends by playing his
> violin, so does that mean that the Crab shell was a instrument to be played
> with a bow, so that he might have played it, had it been strung properly?
> Jane R. Pomeroy, the editor, asks in a note "a crab shell used as a musical
> instrument?"  I'd suppose that it isn't necessarily an instrument made from
> a crab shell, literally, but one that sort of looks as if. . . .
> But why would the inn-keeper say "the *Crab* *shell* was come" if he meant
> that someone had showed up carrying a stringed instrument?  Surely "the
> guy with the *Crab* *shell* was come" would be more likely.  Their
> consultation had maybe led to a plan to invite a local musician -- one who
> used the nick-name Crab Shell?
>
> Of course, the young fellow who wrote this diary didn't suppose that people
> would be puzzling over it 218 years later.  If he had, he would no doubt
> have taken more pains to be clear.
>
> I've looked in DARE, the OED and Mathews' Dictionary of Americanisms
> without enlightenment.  America's Historic Newspapers (formerly Early
> American Newspapers) shows nothing useful.  Early American Imprints (Evans)
> is misbehaving again, so I can't check it.
>
> GAT
>
> --
> George A. Thompson
> The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
> Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
> Univ. Pr., 1998..
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>
>
>


-- 
George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998..

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


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