[Ads-l] Antedating "Chestnut" - an old joke or story

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jan 10 13:13:22 EST 2019


> On Jan 10, 2019, at 11:52 AM, Andy Bach <afbach at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> 
>> Title: The Broken Sword: A Grand Melo-Drama Interspersed with Songs,
> Chorusses, &c.
> 
> So, is "melo-drama" an early version of things like "rom-com”?  

Very early, it would have to be, in the original Greco-French, given how opaque “melo-“ (‘music(al)’; cf. “melody") is in English.  Plus “melodrama” has long since lost its association with music.  It’s hard to know whether Obi below would have been understood to (necessarily) be a musical drama rather than merely a “romantic” and “sensational” one, in the OED’s words.  The other blends are far more transparent than “melo(-)drama", although as you suggest maybe that wouldn’t have been the case in the early 1800s.   

LH

> I found
> "Obi A Melo-Drama in Two Acts", a "slave play" from 1800ish
> On May 21, 1801, less than a year after its opening at the Haymarket, New
> York's Park Theatre staged the first American performance of Fawcett's
> serio-pantomime *Obi*.
> 
> and "The Warlock of the Glen. A Melo-Drama, in two acts"
> https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007708084
> 
> the 1800 version has the dash, later editions(?) seem to have dropped it.
> 
> On Thu, Jan 10, 2019 at 6:48 AM ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> 
>> HathiTrust has an edition of "The Broken Sword" with an 1816 date. The
>> text differs a bit from the version Peter gives on his website (from a
>> later edition).
>> 
>> Year: 1816
>> Title: The Broken Sword: A Grand Melo-Drama Interspersed with Songs,
>> Chorusses, &c.
>> Author: William Dimond, Esq.
>> Edition: Second
>> Published: Printed and Published by J. Barker, London
>> Note: As performed at the Theatre-Royale, Covent-Garden, with
>> universal applause.
>> Page 13
>> 
>> https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.$b112842?urlappend=%3Bseq=5
>> https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.$b112842'
>> https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.$b112842?urlappend=%3Bseq=17
>> 
>> [Begin excerpt]
>> Zav. . . . At the dawn of the fourth day's journey, I entered the wood
>> of Collares, when suddenly from the thick boughs of a cork tree----
>> 
>> Pab. (Jumping up.) A chesnut, Captain, a chesnut.
>> 
>> Zav. Bah! you booby, I say, a cork.
>> 
>> Pab. And I swear, a chesnut--Captain! this is the twenty-seventh time
>> I have heard you relate this story, and you invariably said, a
>> chesnut, till now.
>> 
>> Zav. Did I? Well, a chesnut be it then. But, take your seat again.
>> [End excerpt]
>> 
>> Garson O'Toole
>> 
>> On Thu, Jan 10, 2019 at 6:38 AM Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu>
>> wrote:
>>> 
>>> I think William Dimond's play "The Broken Sword, or Torrent in the
>> Valley" is indeed the origin of this sense of chestnut, as I noted in
>> several comments with quotations at "Oxford Etymologist" in 2009* (agreeing
>> with the suggestion in OED, which omits the line of the Captian agreeing
>> that in the oft-repeated story it was a chestnut, then; also, later, cf.
>> Green's.)
>>> 
>>> There are even more editions and performances and theater world links
>> than I listed there, many in several US cities (and also an undated
>> adaptation in Notre Dame, IN).
>>> 
>>> I haven't yet checked the French play (apparently available in a
>> multi-volume work at HathiTrust), also performed in 1816, of which it is an
>> adaptation.
>>> 
>>> 
>>> Stephen
>>> 
>>> http://people.duke.edu/~goranson/
>>> 
>>> 
>>> 
>>> *https://blog.oup.com/2009/09/ever-green-chestnut/#comments
>>> 
>>> ________________________________
>>> From: American Dialect Society <...> on behalf of Peter Reitan <...>
>>> Sent: Wednesday, January 9, 2019 7:31 PM
>>> To: ...
>>> Subject: [ADS-L] Antedating "Chestnut" - an old joke or story
>>> 
>>> "Chestnut" is a few years older than the earliest citation I have seen
>> elsewhere, which was 1880.
>>> 
>>> "Chestnut" dates to at least 1876, when it was defined with almost
>> precisely its current meaning.
>>> 
>>> "“Chestnut” means “old story,” or “old joke.” We don’t mean the
>> vegetable chestnut, but the technical, ejaculatory one."
>>> 
>>> The Republican Journal (Belfast, Maine), May 25, 1876, page 2.
>>> 
>>> The next earliest examples start to appear beginning three years later.
>> Most examples related to minstrel acts telling bad jokes, but "chestnuts"
>> or "old chestnuts" could also refer to old songs or familiar plays.
>>> 
>>> The word seems to have picked up steam after a new joke went viral in
>> 1884:
>>> 
>>> "Jenny – Why are old jokes called chestnuts? Don’t know, unless it is
>> because they are bad-in-age. Boston Folio."
>>> 
>>> Detroit Free Press, September 11, 1884, page 8.
>>> 
>>> The popularity of the joke and the newly widespread word led to a brief
>> fad of carrying "chestnut bells" that people would ring, obnoxiously, when
>> someone started telling an old or familiar joke or story.
>>> 
>>> I also found an earlier purported explanation of the origin of the word,
>> which appeared before the joke went viral, unlike the several other
>> explanations from the period I've seen elsewhere which all appeared between
>> a year or three years after the viral joke.
>>> 
>>> This earliest explanation claims (I don't believe it) that the
>> expression started in St. Louis where one newspaper that used lots of old
>> jokes was located on Chestnut Street (which is true, I checked).  A rival
>> paper claimed that the other paper was routinely called the "Old Chestnut"
>> because of its location (no evidence of that), and old jokes were called
>> "Old Chestnuts" because they came from the other paper.  This explanation
>> dates to 1881.
>>> 
>>> Grammarphobia has a good post that goes through the other explanations
>> from the period.
>>> 
>> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www.grammarphobia.com_blog_2017_01_old-2Dchestnut.html&d=DwIGaQ&c=imBPVzF25OnBgGmVOlcsiEgHoG1i6YHLR0Sj_gZ4adc&r=uUVa-8oDL2EzfbuMuowoUadHHcJ7pjul6iFkS5Pd--8&m=cpUSUrCi4ahRSEqLX86ZR5UfnA5eFuLQGxWGsddggz8&s=mHVyp_9UlG6-qERHo7sH4C1bX0T8u4CuPv9yYIt9hEM&e=
>>> 
>>> One of the explanations claimed that it happened in 1867 with a touring
>> stage troupe performing a particular play with a funny line about a
>> chestnut tree that comes up as one of the characters is retelling an old
>> story but saying cork tree, instead of chestnut this time - "Chestnut!"
>>> 
>>> Anyways, the story names four people who were present at the time, and I
>> was able to find an advertisement for a performance of that play, in the
>> state where he said it happened, that involved all of those particular
>> performers in 1869, which seems close, and may lend a bit of credence to
>> his story.  Another person told a similar story, about the same play, but
>> said it happened years after the first known example of the word.
>>> 
>>> The "bad in age"/badinage pun has its own long history dating to the
>> 1820s, as does a prototypical bad pun about the differences between a
>> chestnut horse and a horse chestnut which came from the House of Commons in
>> the 18-aughts.
>>> 
>>> I have a post about it all here:
>>> 
>> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__esnpc.blogspot.com_2019_01_horses-2Djokes-2Dand-2Dbells-2Dunfunny-2Dhistory.html&d=DwIGaQ&c=imBPVzF25OnBgGmVOlcsiEgHoG1i6YHLR0Sj_gZ4adc&r=uUVa-8oDL2EzfbuMuowoUadHHcJ7pjul6iFkS5Pd--8&m=cpUSUrCi4ahRSEqLX86ZR5UfnA5eFuLQGxWGsddggz8&s=VC41SBxc1VN5fkYAjkPQSSpDTjzj-tghdZ2Z_ErDhZU&e=
>>> 
>>> 
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>> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.americandialect.org&d=DwIGaQ&c=imBPVzF25OnBgGmVOlcsiEgHoG1i6YHLR0Sj_gZ4adc&r=uUVa-8oDL2EzfbuMuowoUadHHcJ7pjul6iFkS5Pd--8&m=cpUSUrCi4ahRSEqLX86ZR5UfnA5eFuLQGxWGsddggz8&s=qRtiCFc2cMO0zYEoNW95FxSfYu-ZbwTv--AzYQBbcOc&e=
>>> 
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>> 
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> 
> 
> -- 
> 
> a
> 
> Andy Bach,
> afbach at gmail.com
> 608 658-1890 cell
> 608 261-5738 wk
> 
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