[Ads-l] Antedating of PETTYFOGGER, n1: 1564 <= c. 1555

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Thu Sep 22 05:32:35 EDT 2016

OED has "pettifogger, n.1: 1. Originally: an inferior legal practitioner who
dealt with petty cases," with the earliest citation from 1564.

There's a [possible] antedating in Gilbert Walker's _Manifest Detection of
Diceplay_, which the OED dates as c. 1555:

     ... be but pety figgers , and vnlessoned // laddes that haue such redy
passage to the gallowes. [D5v-D6r]

Walker is referring to small-time (or petty) pickpockets -- cf. Fig Boys and
Figging Law in the same text.

If this is accepted, it not only provides an antedating, but throws new light on
the origin of the term (as originally cant) and its original meaning (not a
small-time lawyer but a more physical crook).  The term would thus become one of
those which transition from a cant origin via colloquial use, accompanied by a
shift in reference, to finally end up as Standard Written English.

Makes sense to me [but then it would, wouldn't it?].

Robin Hamilton

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

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