bilbo (and P & Q)

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Apr 23 15:08:03 UTC 2009

At 4/23/2009 10:42 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>There's another slightly earlier-attested "bilbo(w)" in the OED, also
>probably from the Basque city of its supposed manufacture, for a long
>iron bar used to shackle prisoners at sea, popularized by its
>appearance (but, as history dictated, non-use) on ships of the
>Spanish Armada.
>1602 SHAKES. Ham. V. ii. 6 Me thought I lay Worse then the mutines in
>the Bilboes.

But well-known for its frequent use (generally in the plural,
although the OED describes it/them as a single bar, attached to the
floor) and location in the centers of British North American colonial
towns.  And the earliest OED2 (1989) quotation is:

1557 in Hakluyt Voy. I. 295, I was also conueyed to their
lodgings..where I saw a pair of bilbowes.

This is early enough for Dekker.

As an aside, I found it interesting that the three earliest
quotations we seem to have for "P's and Q's" (the two in the OED
draft rev. Mar. 2009 and the additional discovery by Stephen
Goranson) are all from Thomas Dekker, and nearly two centuries before
almost all others.  (The only exception is one from 1612 for a
somewhat different sense:  "{dag}2. to be P and Q: to be of the
highest quality. Obs. rare (Eng. regional (midl.) in later
use).  1612 S. ROWLANDS Knaue of Harts (Hunterian Club) 20 Bring in a
quart of Maligo, right true: And looke, you Rogue, that it be Pee and Kew.")


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