"phat slush", 1872

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri Dec 2 17:57:35 UTC 2011

What do the experts make of "phat" in the following?  (Found entirely
by accident -- I was looking for "biting money"; can you find it below?)

 From the Little Rock Daily Republican, (Little Rock, AR) Friday,
December 27, 1872; Issue 225; col A (19th Century U.S. Newspapers):


--No fun.
--No coal.
--No mail.
--St. John.
--No news.
--No money.
--Biting cold weather.
--Dardanelle [a city in Arkansas] is full of cotton.
--No trains to or from the east.
--The mails are very irregular.
--Yesterday was St. Stephen's day.
--Ball at "Papa" Geyer's last night.
--Trains are provokingly unpunctual.
--No common council this evening.
--State-house items are wofully scarce.
--One of the dullest Christmases we ever saw.
--The river has not been frozen over since 1864.
--A couple of drunks in the police court yesterday.

[Etc., etc., gradually becoming more and more lengthy, informative,
and reportorial -- or are they still satirical? -- such as:]

--The Erosophian Adelphi society of St. John's college gives an
entertainment to-night at City hall for the benefit of its
library.  The programme is very attractive, and among its features we
observe "tondraonmiphilipinotrassianento" [sic] by Prof. Bill Smith's
band, and "M[a?]zeppa with the Epizooty."  The admission cards are
fifty cents for children, and seventy-five for the dress-circle.  The
gallery rates are fifty cents.
      ["Erosophian" =? a portmanteau of "eros" and
"soph-"?  "Mazeppa" = "A person likened in some way to Mazeppa, esp.
in being the unwilling rider of a wild horse.", "epizootic = "An
epizootic disease". (OED.)]
--A reception was given Stanley, the discoverer of Livingston, on the
17th, in Boston, by Curtis Guild, of the Commercial Bulletin, at his
residence, 26 Vernon street.  [Mount Vernon St. is on Beacon
Hill.]  The affair was quite informal, but very pleasant.  Among
those present, together with many of the principal newspaper editors
and proprietors, were Gov. Washburn [William B. was governor in
1872], Mayor Gaston [William was mayor in 1872], M. P. Wilder, Rev.
E. Hale, Collector Russell [I have not tried to identify the last
three] and many distinguished citizens and member of the city
government.  There were also several ladies present.
--Little Billy Wagstaff won't tie fire-crackers to his father's bull
dog's tail any more.  L. B. W. coaxed the pup into an alley which
runs through to Third street, and he and two or three boon
cellar-door sliders-down secured the explosive cylinders to the
stubby tail.  The fusee was ignited, and Billy held Bully, until the
fizz-z-z! warned him to left go, which he did.  With a popping like
unto seventeen boxes of Zeisler's soda-water in summer, that
melancholy dog bounded adown the alley, spreading dismay and burnt
crackers.  He leaped into some man's cow-stable, and squatted down in
a pile of straw to nurse his singed tail and his
wrath.  Unfortunately, a coal of a cracker set fire to the straw, and
that settled the stable.  Mr. Wagstaff paid the damages, and now
Billy stands up when he eats.
      [End of article.]

Ah, the mysteries of 19th-century southwestern journalism!  But what
does one make of "phat" and "slush" here?

"slush" = (probably) n.1, 4.a., "Rubbishy discourse or literature.
Also gen., nonsense, drivel; sentimental rubbish."  The OED's
earliest citation is:
      1869    'M. Twain' Innocents Abroad x. 91   He'll grind out
about four reams of the awfullest slush.

Given this, who could argue against the claim that "phat" here means
"excellent, admirable, 'cool'", and is an antedating by 90 years of
the OED's 1963?

But I suspect I know whom.  :-)  "Whom" might argue that it is merely
a fanciful spelling for "fat", adj., a variant of sense 9, perhaps
9.e., "Typogr. fat take, fat work, in type-setting, work or a piece
of work especially profitable to the compositor who works by the
piece. Hence, fat page: one having many blank lines or spaces."  Or
perhaps 10., "Well supplied with what is needful or desirable.",
10.b., "Of things: Abundant, plentiful; ...";


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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list