"Whole Ball of Wax" (1892)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Dec 18 14:10:52 UTC 2004

>         Edward McGrath, 45, . . . [was] one of those drunken loafers,
>without home and without employment. . . , and was usually seen half
>naked and half drunk about a shanty at 64 Centre street; and used to
>run errands for the neighbors, being known by the cognomen of "the ball
>of wax."
>New York Daily Express, September 9, 1840, p. 2, col. 5

The usual meaning of "ball o' wax" was "shoemaker", I believe (in Farmer
and Henley). I think this was originally a metaphor, based on some ball of
wax which was/is part of a shoemaker's equipment. Maybe McGrath was or had
been a shoemaker, or maybe there was some other meaning. "Snob" apparently
meant "shoemaker" too, and it acquired other meanings in roughly the same

-- Doug Wilson

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