"Billy to Betty", 1768

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Apr 27 18:28:13 UTC 2014

I am interested in "Billy to Betty", as used in the "Rogerene"
quotation from 1768:

In this country they go into churches and other religious meetings,
where they dance about in an extraordinary manner, Billy to Betty,
and cry out constantly, "Who can do as we do, and yet be pure and undefiled?"

1768 Alexander Mackraby, Letter to Sir Philip Francis, 20 January,
Bristol [Pennsylvania].  In Pennsylvania Magazine of History and
Biography 11 (1887), 278.  GBooks.

Here I see in the "to" an allusion to impropriety -- Billy and Betty
dancing -- and nude!! -- in close proximity to each other.

"Betty" and "Billy" presumably have been used (separately) to refer
generically to a female and a male.  For "Betty" the OED has "1. A
female pet name or familiar name, once fashionable (as in Lady
Betty), but now chiefly rustic or homely.", but without any
quotations.  And "billy, n.1" can be "1.  Fellow; companion, comrade,
mate."; from ?a1513 and a1796.

But was the phrase "Betty <conjunction> Billy" commonly used to
denote a pair, a couple?  And from what date?


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