"take a stump"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Mon Jan 4 03:26:59 UTC 2010

        "This they considered as daring them to it; and "Chauncey's Tigers never took a stump," at it they went. . . .
        A Green Hand's First Cruise. . . .  quoted in Hudson River Chronicle, January 19, 1841, p. 1, col. 3

        This is quoted from a memoir of a American prisoner of war during the War of 1812, a sailor who had been held in a camp in England.  The guards fired into a group of the prisoners, who had been playing a bat-and-ball game; the ball was hit over a wall, and not for the first time that day; the guards had been throwing the ball back to the sailors, but this time they would not, and refused to allow a prisoner to retrieve it.  There was a disturbance, and the shooting followed.


The OED has:
        stump, (noun, #1)  9. Cricket.    a. Each of the three (formerly two) upright sticks which, with the bails laid on the top of them, form a wicket.
to draw (the) stumps: to pull up the stumps, as a sign of the discontinuance of play or of the termination of a match or game.

        (stump, noun, #3)  2. U.S. colloq. ‘A dare, or challenge to do something difficult or dangerous’ (W. 1911).  The earliest appearance is 1871.

        If this is connected with the first, then it is a variant of "draw the stumps", but means "to quit or concede defeat".
        The second seems more likely by its sense, with "take a stump" meaning "take a dare", but the sentence is in the negative, which isn't appropriate.  "Chauncey's Tigers never refused a stump" or "Chauncey's Tigers always took a stump" would fit.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

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

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