"to ring changes", sexual, 1736

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Apr 4 19:50:19 UTC 2010

At 1:56 PM -0400 4/4/10, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>Interdates OED2 1712--1763.  But casts a different light on the
>meaning.from both Addison's 1712 "The Poet rung the Changes upon
>these eight several Words" (under "ring v.2, 8.b") and the 1786 "To
>initiate him into the art of what that gentleman stiled ringing the
>changes; that is, ingeniously substituting a worse for a better
>article, and decamping without a discovery" (under change n., 8.c, slang).
>Boston Evening-Post, 1736 July 5, page 1, col. 2.  From the Political
>State for April, 1736.  [EAN; _The Political State of Great Britain_
>for 1736 is extant.]
>"she invited these Guests home to her Master's House, where they
>drank plentifully from 10 in the Morning till 4 in the Afternoon,
>when Jane Andrews proposed to the Company (the Drummer, Chimney
>sweeper and strange [that is, out-of-town] Woman) that they and she
>should all go to Bed together; and thereupon she shut up the Doors
>and Windows, and though 'twas but about 4 o'Clock in the Afternoon,
>they stript, and all four went into one Bed together, (as the Maid
>call'd it _to ring Changes_) and lay there till a Mob, hearing of
>this Affair, surrounded the Door, and disturbed the happy Pairs"
>What do slang dictionaries have for a sexual connotation?  Chapman
>has simply "To make or try out variations, esp. ingeniously."

Lovely cites.  There do indeed seem to be all sorts of changes one
might ring, for better or worse.  For a related construction,
invoking a different verb and a simile that wouldn't have been
available in the 18th century, there's a 1970's verse from Warren
Zevon, popularized (after alteration via gender reassignment surgery)
by Linda Ronstadt as follows:


Well, I met a man out in Hollywood,
Now I ain't namin' names.
Well, he really worked me over good,
Just like Jesse James.
Yes he really worked me over good,
He was a credit to his gender.
Put me through some changes, Lord,
Sort of like a Waring blender.


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

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