"to sweat [something] out" -- 146-year antedating, I hope

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sat Feb 23 16:00:23 UTC 2013

Jesse, I don't know whether the OED database has
anything noticeably earlier than 1876 for sense
9.b, "sweat it out" = "await or endure anxiously
or with unease".  Which might make Jon less sweaty.  :-)

At 2/22/2013 10:04 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>I think Boylston means not to "endure it" but to to "get rid of it" through
>feverish effort.

That's why I mentioned sense 2.b. -- there was
the possibility (although I continue to prefer 9.b).

Jon wrote also:
>The really innovative WW2 usage was to "sweat
>(something) out," i.e., wait for it to end or to
>occur, put up with it until it happens or is over, worry about it, etc.

The question in my mind is whether sweating it
out with _just Reflection and due Repentance_ is
(sense 2.b:) "feverish effort" or rather (sense
9.b:) "anxiously waiting for and worrying about
history's verdict"  -- whether Boylston's
opponents will be proved right that inoculation
is bad medical practice, or the writer, Boylston,
will be proved right that inoculation is an
effective preventative.  The passage was written
in 1726 or 1730, when the heated controversy over
Boylston's inoculations in Boston in 1721-22 had
not subsided; and only after 1730, at the next
epidemic of smallpox in Boston, would William
Douglass, its most vociferous opponent, first
concede that inoculation was effective (much
lower mortality rate) if performed with appropriate precautions.

Boylston's 1730 "Historical Account of the
Small-Pox Inoculated" is available in EAI and
ECCO, and freely via the Harvard Library catalog
(page images).  When read through completely, his
Dedication and Preface indicate that he was
publishing to make his successful experience with
inoculation more widely known, and to convince
both doctors and the general population of its
effectiveness.  For more context, which may or
may not convince skeptics, I quote more fully
from the preceding and containing paragraphs:

      "... My design is only to stir up those who
have not yet come into and used this Method, and
to lay before the People a fair state of the
Distemper in both ways of Infection, that they
may be appriz'd of the danger in the one, and the
reasonable Expectation they have of doing well in
the other. My Reasonings and Opinions I submit to
those of better Judgement, but as we are rational
Creatures, we do, or should delight in acting
upon Principles of Reason; and those who consider
this Method, and make use of it, I think may be said so to act.
      "... I have been basely us'd and treated by
some who were Enemies to this Method, and have
suffered much in my Reputation and in my Business
too, from the Odiums and Reflections cast upon me
for beginning and carrying on this Practice in
New England; which ill Usage I think justly
intitles me to make the necessary Reflections,
and relate matters of Fact in my own
Justification, and to recommend and do Justice to
the Method, which was so expos/d and condemn'd by
their Misrepresentations, which have been spread
abroad in the World; and to set things in a good
Light, that the World may impartially judge
between the Parties (if I may be allow's the
Term) which of the two have acted most like Men
and Christians, viz. Whether those who have
oppos'd and exclaim'd against this Method without
due Considerations of, or knowing scarce any
thing about it; or those who have consider'd
well, been in the Practice of, and have prov'd by
their own Experience, or that have seen the good
Effects and Benefits of it, and from such Reasons
have recommended it to others?
      "Indeed I can easily forgive and pity those
who thro Tenderness, or in Point of Conscience,
have refused the offer'd Mercy, and that have
gently appear'd against it. Such, with the
Assistance of a Divine, together with the
Exercise of their own Reason upon it, may easily
get thro their Difficulties. But for those who
out of private Piques or Views, have exclaim'd
and railed against it [smallpox inoculation], and
who have trumpt up the groundless ill
Consequences that would attend or follow it: Such
I leave to sweat it out with just Reflection and
due Repentance. As for my own Part, I know of no
better Way of judging between moral and immoral
Methods of Medical Practice, than from the good
or ill Success that does, or may attend them."

My reading of this is that Boylston was asking
for rational, unprejudiced evaluation of
inoculation and a future judgement of its value,
and saying that his opponents would have to wait
and see ("sweat it out") how the world would decide..

Garson wrote:
>Below is an instance in 1855 where "sweat it
>out" means to persevere, wait, delay, I think.
>But the setting is summer, so the phrase also
>comically references physical sweating. The OED
>gloss mentions anxiety which is muted in this example.

The issue, I think, is when did the dividing
lines between physically sweating out something,
dual meanings or comical allusions (like Garson's
example), and essentially pure metaphorical use
(Boylston's?) get crossed.  Admittedly, 1730 is
quite early, and seems to leave a big gap
(something Jon is always suspicious of).  But it
happens sometimes (perhaps especially with
slang?), and the OED is sparse for the 18th
century.  And I don't know what the OED database may have.

P.S.  I was quoting from the 1730 edition.  I had
forgotten that there is also a 1726 edition
(ECCO), which I have not yet checked for the "sweat it out" quotation.


>There's a much more persuasive ex. from 1866 in HDAS III or IV.  Ask for it
>at your extra-dimensional booksellers!
>There's also one from 1929.  Whatever its early history, the phrase became
>a familiar cliche' only during WWII, app. via the AAF.
>On Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 5:30 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> > -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> > Subject:      "to sweat [something] out" -- 146-year antedating, I hope
> >
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > Acknowledging that sweat, v., "has not yet been
> > fully updated (first published 1918)."
> >
> > "But for those who out of private Piques or
> > Views, have exclaim'd and railed against it
> > [smallpox inoculation], and who have trumpt up
> > the groundless ill Consequences that would attend
> > or follow it: Such I leave to sweat it out with
> > just Reflection and due Repentance."
> >
> > Zabdiel Boylston, _An Historical Account of the
> > Small-Pox Inoculated in New England [etc.]_, The
> > Second Edition, Corrected. Re-Printed at Boston
> > for S. Gerrrish and T. Hancock, 1730.  Preface, vi.
> >
> > "sweat, v." 9.b "trans. With out, to await or
> > endure anxiously or with unease. Esp. in phr. to
> > sweat it out . colloq.", antedates 1876-- ('M. Twain').
> >
> > There is the earlier (1592--) sense 2.b.
> > (trans.?) "fig. To give forth or get rid of as by
> > sweating; slang, to spend, lay out (money). Also
> > with away, out.", for which the OED has
> > "c1610­15   tr. St. Augustine Life St. Monica in
> > C. Horstmann Lives Women Saints (1886) 140,   I
> > could not sweate out from my hart that bitternes
> > of sorrow."  But I think Boylston's quote does
> > not have the connotation of "to emit" something,
> > rather of time passing and the world accepting
> > inoculation despite the views of its opponenet.
> >
> > There are a few earlier instances of
> > "sweat/sweated/sweating it out" in GBooks, but
> > they all seem to be literal, e.g. in the context
> > of illness.  For example, the OED has under sense
> > 1.a "1700  Dryden Chaucer's Cock & Fox in Fables
> > 224   With Exercise she sweat ill Humors out."
> > However, since the form is "sweat [something]
> > out", it seems difficult to search for a figurative instance.
> >
> > Joel
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> >
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