Request: Match p-l-y in 1756 document

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sat Dec 4 14:10:58 UTC 2010

"Paltry" sounds good to me -- a Royal Navy
captain who was "peaceable" and did not fire at
the most effective time would be "a worthless
person or thing", at least at his job.  And it
might have been considered a libelous adjective.

But if you don't like that -- Is there a
countable number of dashes?  If so, let us know
how many.  Is the dashed word capitalized, thus someone's name?


At 12/3/2010 11:04 PM, Garson O'Toole wrote:
>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Some letters in the word have been replaced by dashes: "they have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 -

The American Dialect Society -

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