[Ads-l] swear(ing) box, swear(ing) jar

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 6 21:01:50 UTC 2021

Fun topic  and nice work, Ben. Below is a match that occurs a bit
earlier in 1875. The following excerpt contains "swearing box"
together with the variant "curse box" which you did not list. The
penalty is a nickel instead of a dime.

Date: February 20, 1875
Newspaper: The Philadelphia Inquirer
Newspaper Location:
Article: The State and Vicinity
Quote Page 1, Column 5
Database: GenealogyBank

[Begin excerpt]
In a Westwood, Bergen county, store, is a "curse box." Every body that
utters an oath is obliged to deposits five cents in the box. The
"setters" call it a "swearing box," and say it's a sinking fund for
them when they get hard up.
[End excerpt]


On Wed, Jan 6, 2021 at 3:10 PM Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> Dennis Baron asks about the history of the "swear jar" and its precursor
> the "swear box." Neither is in OED or other dictionaries I checked (though
> there's a Wikipedia entry -- see below).
> Here are the earliest cites I've found so far for the different variants.
> * "swearing box" (1878)
> https://www.newspapers.com/clip/67055532/swearing-box/
> The Weekly Observer (Raleigh, NC), Apr. 30, 1878, p. 1, col. 4
> New York, April 22, 1878 -- A queer character died here a few days ago --
> George W. Blunt, aged 77, for many years Commissioner of Pilots. He
> abhorred profanity, and kept in his office a tin box in which he required
> every man who swore in his presence to deposit a dime, the proceeds being
> applied to some charitable purpose. It is related that he himself was the
> largest contributor, giving from two to five dimes every day for an equal
> number of "damns." His box was crammed for a while, but the pilots learned
> to take their luxuries in cheaper regions and of late a dime, except it was
> from Mr. Blunt's pocket, had rarely dropped therein. It is related that a
> prominent yacht-owner entered Mr. Blunt's office one day, and while
> conversing with him swore. Mr. Blunt demanded his 10 cents. An explanation
> followed and the yacht-owner retired, apparently very indignant, but
> without paying the fine. Mr. Blunt was surprised next morning at receiving
> a check for $1000 as a "swearer's contribution" to the charities to which
> the swearing box was devoted, the "Pilots' Charitable Fund" and the "Pilots
> Benevolent Association."
> * "swear box" (1883)
> https://www.newspapers.com/clip/67054515/swear-box/
> The Boston Globe, Mar. 20, 1883, p. 6, col. 3
> $100 a Week for the "Swear-Box." (Pittsburg Dispatch.)
> In the office of the pilot commissioners in New York is a strong iron box
> constructed on the plan of a toy savings bank. It is known among the pilots
> as the "swear-box," and every person swearing in that room has to pay ten
> cents for each oath, or three for a quarter, the money going into the box.
> One pilot is known to have paid over $1000. It was not unusual to collect
> $100 a week for the first few months after it was put up, but of late years
> the contributions have fallen off heavily. The rule is rigidly enforced and
> no one ever objects to paying the penalty, even if the oath was purely
> accidental. Old Commodore Vanderbilt was once a heavy contributor, and so
> were other large ship and boat owners.
> * "swearing jar" (1947)
> https://www.newspapers.com/clip/67055396/swearing-jar/
> The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA), Apr. 4, 1947, p. 1, col. 1
> It says that John Gray and Budd Sarkis at the Rolly Room have filled their
> third "swearing jar" and it's going to a little girl in the Village ...
> seems they have a glass jar down there and when anybody says the bad word,
> he has to chunk it in the jar for charity ... the hospital has benefited
> twice because of breach of tempers ... now this little girl is going to
> profit. ... So, if you have to swear, do it at the Rolly Room and be
> prepared to pay.
> * "swear jar" (1953)
> https://www.newspapers.com/clip/67054952/swear-jar/
> The World (Coos Bay, OR), June 30, 1953, p. 2, col. 2 (photo caption)
> A "swear jar" at the Blue Moon tavern has raised approximately $100 for the
> North Lake Crippled Children's Camp and has started a movement expected to
> spread to other taverns in Coos County. Mrs. Joe Rennaker, bartender,
> thought up the plan and the owner, Robert Downer, has asked all 47 other
> taverns in the county to do the same. Mrs. Rennaker, center, is holding her
> swear jar, while Mrs. Clea Farr and Robert (Scotty) Agnew demonstrate how
> fines are collected.
> Wikipedia has an entry that dates "swear box" to the 1890s. It also claims
> "swear jar" dates to the 1910s, but that appears to be based on false
> positives from Google Ngrams and not actual cites.
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swear_jar
> --bgz
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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