Request: Match p-l-y in 1756 document

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Dec 4 04:04:40 UTC 2010

Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes

This is a famous quotation associated with the battle of Bunker Hill,
and it has been discussed on this list in the past. I have located a
1756 instance of the command in the context of the Royal Navy. But the
text contains a censored word, and I would like to know more about it.
Some letters in the word have been replaced by dashes: "they have
p-l-y captains". Suggestions for the identity of this word would be

Cite: 1756 July 10, The Monitor: or British Freeholder, Issue Number
49, Page 469, Printed for J. Scott, London.

… you must needs have heard, Sir Andrew, how the French captains are
reported to have addressed their crews in the last war, when they
spied any of our great ships;

"Chear, my good boys; you are in no danger, the ships look formidable
indeed, but they have p-l-y captains; very worthy peaceable men, who
will do you little harm; possibly they may make a flourish and give
you a broadside or two at a distance; but they have dropt their old
way of not firing till they see the whites of your eyes."

Were there not many examples to countenance this sarcasm?

The website allows dictionary searches with wildcards. For
example, typing the following into the search box produces potential
matches: p*l*y. Clicking on "Common words only" restricts the set of
matches. The set of matches is large but none seemed right, e.g.,
paltry, peddlery, poltroonery, poultry, proletary are not satisfying.

Thanks for any help you can provide

The American Dialect Society -

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