Fwd: "as if X had just come out from under a featherbed"

Carl N. E. Burnett 03 Carl.N.E.Burnett.03 at ALUM.DARTMOUTH.ORG
Mon May 22 05:36:27 UTC 2006

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (whose birthday is today, incidentally) used a similar phrase in his novel "The Firm of Girdlestone":

"It's as plain as the fingers of me hand," the old soldier said in a wheezy muffled brogue, as if he were speaking from under a feather-bed.

Here it seems clear enough that it means "speaking in a muffled voice."  Perhaps in the sailor's letter the similar phrase is used to imply that these "few who were glad to see us" had not had the opportunity to speak freely or at length in quite some time?  Or perhaps the writer is simply deriding the New Orleaneans' accents?

Someone on this website has apparently run across the phrase before as well, but also seems stumped as to its meaning: http://www.rootsweb.com/~genepool/amerispeak.htm

Date:    Sun, 21 May 2006 16:49:14 -0400
From:    Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
Subject: Fwd: "as if X had just come out from under a featherbed"
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Can anyone help with this?

--- begin forwarded text

From: pajaronian at att.net
To: laurence.horn at yale.edu
Subject:  1862 idiom
Date: Sat, 20 May 2006 18:38:42 +0000

Dear Dr. Horn,
   While editing the letters and diary of a Civil War sailor, a former
Yale student and New Haven resident, one phrase baffles me and I
wonder if you might know its meaning.
   In a journal letter to his father, May 5, 1862, he relates
wandering around newly occupied New Orleans.   The young man, 18-19
years old, writes:

On our way back to the Memphis landing I saw the sign "M. Greenwood,"
a very familiar name, over a fine, large store, but the premises,
like most there in the city, were closed. Curious as to how he fared,
I stepped into the next store, the door of which was open, to
inquire; but the proprietor, a very [illegible] manly looking man, so
soon as he saw me coming, turned square about and walked aft. Not at
all daunted I followed him up and when alongside turned to him and
asked him if he could please tell what had become of Mr. Greenwood,
next door! He turned his back to me again and saying in a most
insulting tone, "I have nothing in the world to do with you, Sir!"
walked off. I answered, "Very well," and also went my way. Such was
the conduct of very many to whom I spoke, while some few were glad to
see us and talked as if they had just come out from under a

What in the world is the meaning of  [they] talked as if they had
just come out from under a featherbed?

Any help you might offer would be greatly appreciated.

George S. Burkhardt

--- end forwarded text

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

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