"moonraker" and Wiltshire cheese, 1789

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun May 29 19:25:10 UTC 2011

      The OED (Dec.2002) has "moonraker', sense 1. as "A native of
the county of Wiltshire, in England.In Wiltshire a more complimentary
turn is given to the story told in quot. 1787: the men were in fact
raking a pond for kegs of smuggled brandy and, when caught, fooled
the revenue men by feigning madness"
      Its first quote is from a dictionary:
1787    F. Grose Local Prov. in Provinc. Gloss. sig. R vij
v,   Wiltshire Moon-rakers. Some Wiltshire rusticks, as the story
goes, seeing the figure of the moon in a pond, attempted to rake it out.
      Its next quote is 1819.

In _Brother Tom to Brother Peter, or Peter Paid in his own Pence:
with the Articles of Partnership between the devil and Peter Pindar,
Esq. an Historical Epistle_, by a Moonraker (London: Sold by J.
Parsons ... M.DCC.LXXXIX  [1789].

Page 73:

I'm one of those poor harmless Wiltshire geese,
Who know not the noon's shadow from a cheese;
As once evinc'd was, by one of our clowns,
Near fi'y Augurn, or the Marlb'rough Downs.

Page 72:

The Moonraker here taketh leave, for the present, of his coutier and
city friends ...

Thus the connection is indirect -- the author says he is from
Wiltshire and confuses the moon's shadow, and signs himself and says
he is "a moonraker".


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

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