"Guinea" etymology

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Wed May 5 01:52:52 UTC 2010

In addition to "street-organ man" "hurdy-gurdy man": "organ-grinder."

" ... a long Italian chin" = distant relative of Jay Leno?

Well, I'm happy that that description hasn't become as cliched as the
"sharp Slavic cheekbones" employed as though fact by thousands of


On Tue, May 4, 2010 at 9:26 PM, Douglas G. Wilson <douglas at nb.net> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
> Subject:      Re: "Guinea" etymology
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I did a little more reading, and I think I've identified the inspiration
> for Lingard's "Italian Guinea Pig Boy" song.
> I don't find any evidence of guinea pigs being a usual 19th century food
> among Italians or other Europeans.
> The relevant stereotype seems to be that of a street beggar boy of
> Italian origin. Along with the stereotypical street-organ man with
> monkey, there was the stereotypical boy with guinea-pig (or mouse, or
> other animal). As I understand it, the (poor hungry cute) animal could
> serve as a pretext for soliciting a handout, or as a conversation
> starter leading up to a request for small change. I think the guinea-pig
> boy stereotype was more prevalent in Britain, particularly London,
> although I suppose the same thing happened in New York and elsewhere.
> I believe Lingard's image of an Italian with a "stock" of guinea-pigs
> for sale was unrealistic: the typical guinea-pig boy probably owned only
> one or a few or even none (there were those who rented animals etc. to
> beggars by the day).
> Lingard's popular song was a likely vector (not necessarily the only
> one) for "Italian guinea-pig boy" = "poor immigrant Italian boy"
> (Lingard apparently moved from UK to US in 1868).
>  From Google Books (all works from England, I think):
> [1856] <<[title] THE ITALIAN BOY. / Many poor boys come all the way from
> Italy to England to try to get a living. Their parents there are very
> poor indeed, and so they let them come, for they have heard that England
> is a very rich country./ When they get here there are men in London who
> send them ont to beg and bring what money they can get back to them; and
> all the poor lads often get is only a place to sleep in, and something
> to eat. They mostly send them ont with some cnrious animal in their
> hands or in a cage -- a tortoise, or a Guinea pig, or a little monkey,
> or a few white mice.>>
> [1865] <<The importunities of my Israelitish friend are no sooner
> resisted than a Savoyard boy with a guinea-pig under each arm, and a
> white mouse emerging from the recesses of his trouser pocket, coolly
> sits down beside me, uttering a plaintive whine about a 'pover' Italian'
> s'gnor and a 'mezzo-baioccho,' but with a broad grin on his features,
> indicative of the utmost pleasantry and good-humour.>> ["Mezzobaiocco"
> was apparently a small coin, like a halfpenny.]
> [1867] <<There is an inborn taste for natural history on the part of all
> young people; and even the poor Italian boy who travels about with a
> hurdy-gurdy and a guinea-pig, can always secure an admiring audience by
> means of his little animal.>>
> [1868] <<Every one has seen in the streets of London those ragged,
> dark-complexioned boys, who exhibit white mice and guinea-pigs (see
> picture ... [picture of boy with guinea pigs]>>
> [1868] [novel] <<"You've set my missis against me, which is worse nor
> being sent to prison, and turned my house upside down, and you've
> treated me like a dog, and ordered me about like a jackal, and bullied
> me worse nor an Italian boy does his Guinea pig; ....">>
> [1874] <<[poem, "The Organ-Boy"] Great brown eyes, / Thick plumes of
> hair. / Old corduroys / The worse for wear. / A buttoned jacket, / And
> peeping out / An ape's grave poll. / Or a guinea-pig's snout. / A
> sun-kissed face, / And a dimpled mouth, / With the white flashing teeth
> / And soft smile of the South.>>
> [1879] <<[title] THE ITALIAN BOY AND HIS GUINEA PIGS. / In the crowded
> streets of London and its suburbs may be often seen men and boys who are
> natives of Italy. .... / Some of these Italian boys who are brought to
> England go about the streets playing musical instruments. Others you may
> see with little plaster casts for sale. Many go round with cages of
> white mice, which they exhibit; and some, like the boy in our picture
> [picture of boy with guinea-pigs], carry with them little animals called
> guinea pigs, and these little creatures, like the Italian boys, are
> natives of a warmer climate than our own, but they have become common
> now in all parts of the world.>>
> [1882] <<The boy was about twelve, with very black eyes and a long
> Italian chin. When addressed, his countenance relaxed into a beseeching
> smile, showing a set of the whitest teeth, thrusting forward his
> half-open palm, and jerking his long forelock with the other hand, he
> whimpered out: _"Carità, signori, si vi piaci. Signori, pauvre
> geen-peeg."_ He had carried a guinea-pig on the top of his organ when in
> England, but all their property had been confiscated for arrears of
> rent, and they were sent home as paupers by the Italian consul.>>
> -- Doug Wilson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"––a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
–Mark Twain

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list