bilbo (and P & Q)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Apr 23 15:18:46 UTC 2009

At 11:08 AM -0400 4/23/09, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>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.")
I like that "Pee and Kew"--opens up a whole nother range of
etymythologies relating to proper behavior when waiting in those
sometimes interminable lines to use the facilities.


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