ears peeled

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Wed Jan 27 00:52:33 UTC 2010

> Unclear.  The first cite for "sandblind" in the OED is 15th c. but
> apparently undatable otherwise, but the etymological listing insists
> that it is "probably a perversion" of OE "samblind".  "Stone-blind"
> and is attested (as "stane-blynde") in 1375; the second cite is from
> 1591, and comes from a book whose title, _Conny Catching_, evokes
> another recent thread.
> LH

Looks as if, however you cut it, "sand-blind" is the earlier and more fully
attested form.

The second OED cite for "stone-blind" is from the second of Robert Greene's
coney-catching pamphlets, _The second part of conny-catching_ [it wasn't --
the last, that is] published in 1592, not 1591 as Grosart, Greene's 19thC
editor and the source of the OED cite, wrongly asserts.  1591 is the date of
the first and earlier of Greene's pamphlets in this vein, _A notable
discovery of coosnage_.

The OED cites:  "1591 GREENE Conny Catching II. Wks. (Grosart) X. 85, I haue
seen men ston-blind offer to lay bets."

In context, this is:

"... I wish all men that are carefull of their coyne, to beware of such
coseners, & none to come in such
places, where a haunt of such hel-rakers are resident, & not in any wise to
stoope to their bets, least he be
made a vincent, for so manifest & palpable is their cosenage, that I haue
seene men stone-blind offer to
lay bets franckly, although they can see a bowl no more then a post, but
onely hearing who plaies, and
how the old Gripes make their lais ..."
        _The second part of conny-catching_, ed. Stephanie Bear, Renasance

It occurred to me to do a full-text search in the OED, and *then it became

OED:  booty n.  4. 'to play booty'  ...   4. b)  Hence: Booty = playing

The 4b. sense is first cited from 1608:

1608 DEKKER Belman Lond. Wks. 1884-5 III. 135-6 Many other practises there
are in bowling tending to cozenage, but ye greatest and grossest is Booty:
in which ye deceipt is so open and palpable that I haue seene men
stone-blind offer to lay Betts franckely..only by hearing who played, and
how the old Grypes had made their layes.

So Dekker (cited by the OED from another of Grosart's 19thC editions)
indulges in an act of creative recycling of Greene's _The second part of
conny-catching_, but adds the term "booty" to what he appropriates, being
rewarded for this by being given the first recorded use of the word in the

Except ...

Dekker's use of the term "booty" above occurs in the section of _The Belman
of London_ (1608) dealing with one particular form of cosenage or cheating,
Vincent's Law, or being cheated at bowls:

"Vincents Law.

The _Dycing cheator_, and the cozening _Cardplayer_, walke in the habites of
Gentlemen, and cary the faces of honeft men, So likewife doe those that are
Students in the _Vincents Lawe_: whose Inne is a Bowling Alley, whose bookes
are bowles, and whose law cases are lurches and rubbers. The pastime of
bowles is now growne to a common exercise, or rather a trade of which some
of all companies are free ; the sport is not so common as the cozenage vsed
in it, which to haue it liue with credyt and in a good name is called the
_Vincents Law_.

In this Law they which play booty are the_Banckers_.
He that _Betteth_ is the _Gripe_.
He that is cozened is the _Vincent_.
The _Gaines_ gotten is called _Termage_."

        (Dekker, _Belman of London_, as printed in Grosart.)

Vincent's Law is, of course, first described (and the term "Vincent" and
several other words probably coined) by Greene in 1592, where we find the
term "booty" in other contexts.  Again from _The second part of
conny-catching_, ed. Stephanie Bear, Renasance Editions:

"... and their fortune at play euer sorts according as the gripes haue
placed their bets, for the Bawker, he marketh how the laies goes, and so
throes his casting, so that note this, the bowlers cast euer booty, and doth
win or loose as the bet of the gripe leadeth them: for suppose 7. be vp for
the game, and the one hath three and the other none, then the vincent, for
that is the simple man that stands by, and not acquainted with their
cosenage, nor doth so much as once imagine that the bawkers that carry the
countenaunce of honest substantial men,would by any meanes, or for any
gaines, be perswaded to play booty."

(The passage above is partly cited in the OED under BOOTY n  4. 'to play
booty', but there, unlike the citation from Greene for "stone blind", is
given at least the correct publication date: "1592 GREENE Art Conny catch.
II. 8".  As the only OED citation for 'to play booty' before Greene in the
OED is Awdeley's _Fraternity of Vagabonds_ (1566?), it's possible that the
phrase itself, 'to play booty', was a cant extension of the earlier SE
booty= plunder, spoil .)

"... so that the cosenage growes in playing booty, for the gripe and the
bawker meet together at night, and there they share whatsoeuer tearmage they
haue gotten ..."

"Diuers other practises there are in bowling tending vnto coosenage, but the
greatest is booty, and therfore would I wish all men that are carefull of
their coyne, to beware of such coseners ..."

So, to try to make sense of this somewhat muddled sequence, and how it
applies to stone blind.

The term "stone blind" occurs in Robert Greene's _The second part of
conny-catching_ (1592), in a context in which we also have an elaboration of
a possibly cant term first recorded in Awdley, "booty" as specific to
cheating at bowls, and where we have the term almost certainly invented by
Greene, "Vincent", applied to the dupe.

So when it comes to "stone blind", Greene could either, similar to his use
of "booty" from Awdeley, be taking or extending an already existing usage,
or in parallel to his coinage of "Vincent", be using the word for the first

Dekker, in _The Belman of London_ in 1608, cheerfully plunders Greene,
repeating "booty", "Vincent", and "stone blind", and gains the credit from
the OED for being the first to use "booty" in an extended sense.

Before we start feeling too shocked at this act of plagiarism committed on
the poor, unsuspecting Greene (who had been safely dead for six years when
the Belman was published), it's as well to remember that Greene had himself,
for much of the matter of his first coney catching pamphlet, _A Notable
Discouery of Coosnage_ (1591) despoiled Gilbert Walker in _The Manifest
Detection of Diceplay_ of 1552.

Does Walker use the term "stone blind" there?  Not that I remember, but then

As to how much of this background is at issue when Shakespeare plays on
"sand blind" and "high gravel blind" in _The Merchant of Venice_, well ...

Apart from anything else, there was a bit of previous between Shakespeare
and Greene, since Greene, on his deathbed, was supposed to have
characterised his fellow dramatist as "An upstart crow dressed in our
feathers," so perhaps this is another instance of a feather plucked by
Shakespeare from Greene's wing.


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