the language of gesture

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 20 12:55:42 UTC 2011

I think that's an antedating of "DIO," George, but I'm too lazy to check.

In any case, it's an early humorous acronym of the  - dare I say it? - "OK"

Tea thieves: SOTAs of the 1830's.

Speaking of SOTAs: tomorrow, 6 pm Eastern. Lots of CNN coverage so far.
Pencil it in!:


On Thu, May 19, 2011 at 11:35 PM, George Thompson
<george.thompson at>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU>
> Subject:      the language of gesture
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        A black Rogue who says his name is John, and nothing else, was
> yesterday afternoon observed with a box of Tea under his arm; being in the
> neighborhood of the Five Points he excited the suspicion of an officer, but
> the fellow knowing the person of the Law's attache, and seeing that he was
> coming towards him, placed his finger to his nose in the style of that
> neighborhood and started off on a run, saying -- "Mr. Officer you can't come
> to Tea.  He scaled six or seven fences in his flight, and arriving at the
> corner of Chatham and Pearl sts., thought himself safe, when to his
> amazement he found himself and Tea in the clutch of McGrath, the 6th ward
> officer.
>        Evening Star, January 28, 1837, p. 2, col. 2
> My impression had been, that in the 19th C the gesture of touching the side
> of one's nose with an index finger signified "I'm thinking" or, better,
> maybe, "I'm know more than you think I do".  In typing out this item,
> though, I recalled that this alleged perp was using the gesture in the same
> sense as St Nicholas, who, you will recall, laid his finger beside his nose
> just before up the chimney he rose.
> So it also meant "Dio." (1)
> (1) As in a joke in the New-York Evening Post, August 22, 1812, p. 3, col.
> 2: "the wag who stole away from the company he was in, leaving a paper
> marked Dio, that is, "Damme, I am off.""
> George A. Thompson
> Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
> Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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