[Ads-l] "old boy" = the devil + OED antedating of "Old Roger".

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Fri Sep 16 10:33:06 EDT 2016

Responses interspersed.

      From: Robin Hamilton <robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM>
 Sent: Friday, September 16, 2016 9:22 AM
 Subject: Re: [ADS-L] "old boy" = the devil + OED antedating of "Old Roger".
Ah, I must have misread you. I was simply slightly puzzled as to why you picked
the second rather than the first date.

JB:  I didn't pick the second date for "old boy".  I cited both the first and the second because the first is bracketed:  "Antedates OED3 "old boy" sense 4.  [1737], 1782--."  Although I'm unable to deduce a reason why it is bracketed.
I found it interesting that the term “old boy” emerges not simply at a
particular time (as you point out) but in a particular place, Salem, and that
it's not only a subset of a particular set of terms, but a geographically-tagged
member of that subset.

JB:  I have no reason to infer that "old boy" emerged in Salem.  In fact, the 1737 quotation hints that it emerged anciently in England:

[1737   T. Gray in H. Walpole Corr. 29 Dec. (1948) XIII. 146   The devil, whose ancient title has been ‘Old Boy’.]

There is some trace of contagious diffusion, however, somewhat like the throat distemper of the 1730s:  The second quotation, 1782, is from New Jersey (look up Freneau), and the third, 1802, from Hudson, N.Y.

At least, I'm assuming the term didn't gain traction, indeed might simply be a
nonce-usage. Or am I wrong, and it is, or was, actually the preferred term in

JB:  I have no evidence which was the preferred term in America, although my digested reading suggests that it was "old Nick".  Google NGrams might indicate something.

And yes, you're quite right to point to the significance of “old cratten” -- it
adds another ingredient to pot of terms. But why “cratten”? I could understand
“cratter” (later in America, “critter” from “creature”) as that would fit the
pattern of the other examples of Devil-naming. Is “cratten” perhaps a misprint,
or a misreading or mishearing by someone at the time, of “creature” or some
dialectical variant thereof?

JB:  I have no clue to "cratten", and simply hoped someone on the list might have some idea.



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