[Ads-l] Antedating and new sense of "coffin dodger"

Hugo hugovk at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jun 22 19:58:54 UTC 2019

New in the OED:

coffin dodger, n. colloquial (humorous and usually derogatory)  †(a) U.S. a
heavy smoker (obsolete);  (b) chiefly British an elderly person, considered
dismissively as close to death or enduring against the odds.

The OED has 1900 for (a) and 1954 for (b).


Here's some possible antedatings of (b), the first (Australia) for children
who will be close to death if they're not careful, the second (US) a
nickname for a tramp who endures against the odds, and the third
(Australia) a nickname (but it's less clear why).


1891 August 1, O.K., “Short Notes by "O.K."”, in Logan Witness‎, Beenleigh,
Qld, Australia, page 2:

That if parents don't look after their kids some long box makers are likely
to be busy soon. That if after the discharge of buckshot these urchin's
escape the "O.K" man will have to have another look out for the


1906 May 22, “Man About Town”, in The Evening Times‎, Grand Forks, N.D.,
page 4:

Myers Gilbert known in Milwaukee, Wis., and in fact everywhere he has been
as "Coffin Dodger," because of his good luck in wiggling out of tight
places, is a typical tramp newsboy and a mighty clever sample of the
progressive boy of the streets.


1907 November 13, Longstaff, “Tram Troubadors”, in The Sydney Sportsman‎,
Surry Hills, NSW, Australia, page 3:

"Captain Cook" tells a tale of sin and deceit :- Have you ever heard of
Harry, the Coffin Dodger, champion leg-puller of the Ultimo depot ?


A new sense can be found in Australia between 1897 and 1906, for an
alcoholic hangover cure or pick[-me-]up, like a corpse reviver (


1897 November 13, “Barmaids, Avaunt!”, in The Esperance Times, Esperance,
WA, Australia, page 2:

While the Liquor Act Amendment Act was lately before the House, Mr. Leake
tried to get the members to pass a clause imposing a penalty not exceeding
£50 on any licensed person permitting any woman or girl to sell or serve
liquor on his licensed premises. Parliament, however, did not see fit to
abolish the fascinating female dispenser of the Cur-r-r-sed Dr-r-r-ink. She
is still to be allowed to administer the "coffin-dodger" or
"corpse-reviver" at will.


1901 April 28, “Lovely Linda's Love Lore”, in Truth, Brisbane, Qld.,
Australia, page 2:

All sorts came to see Linda, whose soulful innocence was as refreshing as a
gin cocktail or a coffin-dodger the next morning, when one has a tongue
like the corporation street brush and a mouth in semblance, to the bottom
of a parrot cage.


1905 December 16, “Pickup”, in The Express and Telegraph, Adelaide, SA,
Australia, page 2:

He is a Dispenser of everything
and a Vendor of


Links at https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/coffin_dodger#Noun


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

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