That Damned Elusive Skallewagg

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 7 18:38:56 UTC 2013

*Very* interesting finds, Nat, particularly since
historians stereotypically associate  the word with Reconstruction.

These examples antedate any I know of by roughly a generation. Your
language sense is acute.

The only person I ever heard use the word in more-or-less everyday speech
was my grandmother, born in NYC in 1888.  She didn't use it much, but when
she did, she pronounced it "scallywag" with the -y- clearly enunciated.

She used it only in a weakened sense - much like the modern use of
"rascal."  A "scallywag" to her was mischievous rather than villainous, and
the word itself was rather amusing.


On Mon, Jan 7, 2013 at 12:50 PM, Nathaniel Sharpe <nts at>wrote:

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> Subject:      That Damned Elusive Skallewagg
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> (Same e-mail I sent at 11:39 but hopefully now not in plain text.)<br>
> <br>
> <Happy Monday to you all!><br>
> <br>
> <In my genealogical research, I came
> across a newspaper article in 1836 calling an ancestor of mine a
> “Skallewagg.” This piqued my interest and I branched out into
> the less-familiar discipline of etymology. Here is what I found,
> beginning with this query sent to a New York magazine...>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>1863, The Historical Magazine,
> Volume 7, New York, NY, “Queries, April 1863,” page 130</b><br>
> SKALLYWAG. - Bartlett, in his
> Dictionary of Americanisms, gives the definition of this word, but
> not its derivation. I presume it is only another form of scaley wag.
> But where did it originate?<br>
> A.</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><A very good question!
> Unfortunately, when I searched the magazine's available archives, I
> did not find any published answer. But let's see what Barlett has to
> say.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>1859, Dictionary of Americanisms by
> John Russell Bartlett, Little, Brown & Comp., Trübner &
> Comp., 2nd ed, Page 382</b><br>
> SCALLAWAG. A scamp; a scapegrace. A
> scallawag has been defined to be, "like many other wags, a
> compound of loafer, blackguard, and scamp."</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;">Dr. Collier has been showing his model
> artists here, and the mean skallewag left without paying the printer.
> - Buffalo Courier.<br>
> You good-for-nothin' young scallawag,
> is that the way you take care of that poor dear boy, to let him fall
> in the pond. -S. Slick, Human Nature<br>
> That scallawag of a fellow ought to be
> kicked out of all decent society. -Western Sketches</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><I couldn't find Bartlett's
> references but I stumbled on what could be the original source of his
> definition in a newspaper clipping from the previous year.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>Monday, October 4, 1858 Paper: New
> York Herald-Tribune (New York, NY) Volume: XVIII Issue: 5445 Page:
> 6, 'WHAT IS A "SCALLAWAG?'</b><br>
> To the Editor of the N. Y. Tribune.</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;">Sir: Mr. John Livingston, in his recent
> letter to you in reply to a spicy communication reflecting on him and
> his "list of reliable lawyers," and copied by you in your
> issue of August 21, 1858, styles the author a "scallawag."<br>
> Having hunted in vain in the various
> dictionaries, and being desirous to find out the true meaning of this
> word, application is respectfully made to you to furnish the desired
> information; and if you are unable to do so, then please publish
> this, and perhaps Mr. Livingston may enlighten.<br>
> Sept. 20, 1858 READERS.</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;">Answer.-- A "scallawag," like
> many another wag, is a compound of loafer, blackguard and scamp. We
> believe Mr. Livingston used the term according to its accepted
> meaning.<br>
> [Ed.</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><A year earlier and in the same
> publication I found the term used in relation to cattle.><br>
> <br>
> <b>Thursday, July 16, 1857 Paper: New
> York Herald-Tribune (New York, NY) Volume: XVII Issue: 5066 Page:
> 8, “Cattle Market Report”</b><br>
> ...The whole system is as rotten as
> some of the livers of scallawag cattle that scallawag butchers sell
> scallawag people to eat for food, and swell the lists of weekly
> deaths. ... It is cheat all around from farmer to consumer.</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><These Cattle Market Reports were
> published weekly by Solon Robinson who may have been the propagator
> of the term being applied to undersized livestock. The influence his
> reports had is evident below.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>Friday, Feb 18, 1859, Brockport
> Republican (Brockport, NY) “Nominating Town Officers”</b><br>
> Persons who participate in making the
> nominations and then bolt because they or their friends have not been
> nominated, are what the New York Tribune in its cattle report terms
> "scalawags," and the sooner the party is freed from such
> burdensome stock, the sooner it will be on the road to prosperity.</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><Throughout the mid-to-late '50s
> Robinson used this term quite often in cases like “scallawag pigs,"
> or "miserable scallawags."></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>Thursday, Feb 19, 1857 Paper: New
> York Herald-Tribune (New York, NY) Page: 8, “Cattle Market
> Report”</b><br>
> On the other hand, there are scarcely
> any of that old-fashioned kind for which we had several years ago to
> invent the term of reproach now so commonly known as
> “scallawag,”
> which means an animal wholly unfit for the butcher.</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><That's right, Robinson not only
> defines the word but even seems to claim credit for its coinage!
> Before taking him at his word however, let us look at some other
> instances from “several years ago.”></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>Thursday, March 8, 1855 Paper: New
> York Herald-Tribune (New York, NY) Page: 8 Column 4, “Cattle
> Market Report”</b><br>
> The term “scallawag” is a
> provincialism that means everything that is mean. It should be
> applied to the owners who are mean enough to send Cattle here too
> mean to keep at home.<br>
> Is there no way to stop this trade in
> live carrion meat?</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><Robinson's definition is much
> broader here, and it certainly sounds like he is making no claim to
> ownership.> </p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>Thursday, October 24, 1854 Paper:
> New York Herald-Tribune (New York, NY) Page: 8 Column 3, “Cattle
> Market Report”</b><br>
> The truth is that the number of
> miserable “scallawags” is so great, that like the bad portion
> of
> the biped race, they tend to drag down all above themselves to their
> own level.</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><The above is the earliest instance
> of Scalawag I found in the Robinson's reports. Note the apostrophes
> which he later dropped. I found two other instances in 1854, which I
> won't quote here, one from the Herald-Tribune and the other from the
> Knickerbocker Magazine, that both use apostrophes as well.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>Jan-Jun 1850, Sartain's union
> magazine of literature and art, Volume 6, Philadelphia, PA, By John
> Sartain, Page 67, “The Doctor's Third Patient,” by Rev. John
> Todd, D.D.</b><br>
> <font color="#000000"><font face="Times-Roman, serif"><font size="3">Tell
> the meaching, cowardly, ignorant rantum-scantum scaliwag that I
> won't, that's all!</font></font></font> </p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><I'm not sure if that quote has any
> academic value, but it was too good to pass up! The following is the
> earliest official definition of the word.> </p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>1848, Dictionary of Americanisms:A
> glossary of words and phrases, usually regarded as peculiar to the
> United States (Google eBook), Bartlett and Welford, 1st ed, PAGES
> 284-285</b><br>
> SCALAWAG. A favorite epithet in western
> New York for a mean fellow; a scapegrace.</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><This implies that less than 200
> years ago this “provincialism” was still uncommon in all but a
> small corner of the English-speaking world.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>Tuesday, January 12, 1848, The Daily
> Courier (Buffalo, NY)</b><br>
> One of our County Contemporaries wishes
> everybody a happy new year, except a couple of “scalawag”
> subscribers, who have taken his paper for more than a year, and now
> refuse to take it from the post-office, after been politely solicited
> to pay up. Such men, he says, “don't deserve happiness either in
> this world or the next.”</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><This excerpt, coming from western
> New York, supports Bartlett's definition.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>September 24, 1848, Onondaga Gazette
> (Baldwindsville, NY) “One Dollar a Year, Invariably in Advance,
> Walk up and Settle”</b><br>
> Louis Fontain, also of Washington...
> is, as near as we can learn, a poor miserable skallywag, at best. ...
> We wouldn't mind the original bill so much, however, if the scoundrel
> hadn't had the impudence to “elect” us for ten cents on his
> straw
> promise.</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><font color="#000000"><Once again,
> an editor filled with righteous and eloquent indignation. And yes,
> the town of Baldwinsville is also located in the western half of the
> state.> </font>
> </p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>Tuesday, September 12, 1848, The
> Daily Courier (Buffalo, NY)</b><br>
> NED BUNTLINE asks us the definition of
> the word “skallewag.” It means a 'tuppeny,' conceited, seedy,
> individual who is well described by “Ollapod,” thus:--
> “an
> utmost wretch, a multitudinous puppy, lacking not urbanity merely but
> also politeness likewise.”</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><Back to Buffalo and this time with
> a pre-Bartlett definition! After some searching I was able to trace
> the colorful quote to a 1835 article written by Willis Gaylord Clark
> under the pen name “Ollapod” and published in the
> Knickerbocker,
> but could find no instance of the word in that context (or anywhere
> in the available Knickerbocker archives). Also of note is that the
> above three instances of Scalawag, while published in the space of
> only nine months, all exhibit their own unique spellings.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>Tuesday, November 26, 1844; Vermont
> Gazette (Bennington, VT), Volume 15; Issue 48; Page 2; Col. 5. “All
> the Decency”</b><br>
> As the procession passed they were
> insulted…denouncing the democrats as a “gang of
> ragmuffins,” a
> “loco foco rabble,” a “band of scalawags,”
> “Irish
> vagabonds,” “poor loafers,” “drunken
> rowdies,"...</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><The above usage was antedated on
> this e-mail list in 2009 by Stephen Goranson and is the only pre-1850
> instance I found not published in New York State.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>Thursday, August 31, 1843 Paper:
> Albany Evening Journal (Albany, NY) Volume: 14 Issue: 4087 Page:
> 2, “Common Council Wednesday August 30”</b><br>
> Mr. McKnight has sympathy for Mr.
> Cushman, but he has sympathy also for that class which he termed
> “scalliwags.” That class were subjected to the loss, not only
> of
> their capital, but their victuals. He knew one contractor who had
> been kept weeks in idleness, with all his laborers and his horse,
> merely because the surveyor did not choose to furnish the necessary
> grade stakes. And in the mean time, the families of the men were
> suffering for the necessities of life.</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><The council seems to be discussing
> the possible firing of city surveyor Cushman. It is interesting that
> McKnight feels the need to define his term and that the sense he
> gives does not sound exclusively derogatory. The next instance,
> published only 19 days after the last, is distinctive in its suffix
> but more common in regards to its apparent sense.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>September 19, 1843 Paper: Albany
> Evening Journal (Albany, NY) Volume: 14 Issue: 4103 Page: 2,
> “Common Council Sept. 30”</b><br>
> By Mr. Teall, in favor of the payment
> of the account of Horace Pierce, for work done on Hamilton street.<br>
> Mr Chambers thought there was some
> scalawagism about this business.<br>
> So did Ald. Downing, when the report
> was laid on the table on motion of Mr. McKnight. </p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><font color="#000000"><b>January 10,
> 1843 Paper: ONEIDA WHIG (Utica, NY) Page 3, “A Chapter About
> Loafers” by John W. Stafford</b><br>
> A man who sits in
> a bar-room all day and all night, talking politics with all who he
> can get to listen to him, when he makes you think that he had better
> go home, chalk his collar and black his shoes, is not a loafer; he is
> a schallawag.</font></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><font color="#000000"><The above is
> from an article comparing the admirable Loafers to similar but
> inferior types such as Green-Horns and Puppies. If you count
> McKnight's explanation, this is our third pre-Barlett
> definition!></font></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><The next earliest instances are
> found in the county Black List of Batavia, a township in western New
> York (surprise, surprise!). This list was begun around 1830 by the
> local merchants of Genesee County in order to publicly denounce
> absconding debtors. It was published weekly in the county newspapers
> and consisted of about 30 names, the number fluctuating as names were
> removed and added.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><The most recent appearance of
> Scalawag in the Black List was on September 06 1836 in Batavia's
> Republican Advocate, where a set of eight names is followed by the
> label “—<i>all Skallewaggs</i>.” On that same list is my
> ancestor John W. Putman, also tagged with
> “—<i>Skallewagg</i>.”
> However, while Putman was on the list since 1834, the first time he
> was called that name was not until March 8, 1836. Before that the
> honor belonged to the man below him on the list, Abial Hawkins
> (apparently the epithet switched to Putman through a simple
> typesetting error). Hawkins' named was added to the list in 1834,
> between August 5 and November 18. </p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><b>November 18, 1834, Republican
> Advocate (Batavia, NY) Page 4, Column 2, “Absconding
> Debtors”</b><br>
> The following persons are generally
> supposed to have gone off without intention of returning.<br>
> ...<br>
> James O. Leach, Batavia—Black-Leg and
> Knight of the Pressboard and Thimble!!<br>
> John W. Putman, Batavia.<br>
> Harvy Godfrey, Stafford.<br>
> Abial Hakwins, Batavia.—<i>Skallewagg</i><br>
> …</p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><In another Batavian newspaper, the
> Spirit of the Times, Hawkins' name appears with the label “Skallewag
> to Michigan.” Most Black List entries noted where the person was
> from, while some also specified where they had run off to. I do not
> know why the two versions entries differ in spelling and
> content.> </p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><And last of all is the earliest
> appearance of Scalawag I could find, and as far as I know the
> earliest instance yet on record.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><font color="#000000"><font
>  face="Times-Roman, serif"><font size="3"><b>Wednesday,
> April 11, 1832, Ithaca Chronicle (Ithaca, NY) No. 7, Vol. 3, Page 3,
> Column 3, “Town Meetings”</b><br>
> <span style="">NIAGARA
> COUNTY. —Cambria, Royalton, Lewiston, Newfane, and Porter, are
> antimasonic.—Hartland, Wilson and Lockport, masonic, the latter by
> an average majority of 4 votes, under the designation of the
> </span></font></font></font><font color="#000000"><font
>  face="Times-Roman, serif"><font size="3"><i><span
> style="">scalliwag</span></i></font></font></font><font
>  color="#000000"><font face="Times-Roman, serif"><font size="3"><span
>  style="font-style: normal;"><span style="">
> ticket, in support of which the Jackson and Clay men with some
> disaffected antimasons, united.</span></span></font></font></font></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><I must admit that after all those
> k's and double-g's, this variation does seem a bit tame. The report
> it appears in is one of many detailing the town election results in
> New York's counties. A week later the Independence of Poughkeepsie,
> NY quoted this report with word for word accuracy but misspelled
> <i>scalliwag</i> as <i>scailiwag</i>. I'm not even sure exactly what
> sense the word has in this context, and feel this instance raises
> more questions than it answers.></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"><So there you go. I have a few more
> things I can add concerning the history of Scalawag, but this may be
> plenty to chew on for the moment. Your comments and/or advice are
> very welcome!></p>
> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in;">—Nathaniel Sharpe</p>
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