[Ads-l] Antedating of "Curses!"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Feb 6 15:45:40 UTC 2022

Clearly am (originally literary?) euphemism for phrases like "Damn and

Nice work, btw.


On Sat, Feb 5, 2022 at 7:50 PM Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:

> The following was discovered by Patricia O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman.
> This is from their great Grammarphobia blog.
> Fred Shapiro
> The OED’s earliest citation for this use of “curses” (minus the “foiled
> again”) is from Khartoum! (1885), a military drama by William Muskerry and
> John Jourdain: “Ha! they’re here. Ah, curses!”
> But we found an earlier example in a dramatic monologue for the stage, The
> Death of Chatterton, published anonymously in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine in
> September 1839.
> The scene takes place in a London garret, where the young Thomas
> Chatterton, about to commit suicide, delivers these lines: “Why should I
> seek to live? I’ve lived already long enough to know I cannot live for that
> I love the best. Curses—curses—curses!”
> Here’s a non-stage example, from Ada, the Betrayed: Or, The Murder at the
> Old Smithy, published in Lloyd’s Penny Weekly Miscellany (London, 1843):
> “To be foiled by a half-starved hound! I, Jacob Gray, with my life hanging
> as it were by a single thread, to be prevented from taking the secret means
> of preserving myself by this hateful dog! Curses! curses!”
> Note in that example that cursing is associated with being “foiled.” This
> was a common motif in overheated plays, stories, and novels of the 19th
> century.
> We found many examples like this one, from F. C. Thompson’s Nythia, a
> novel serialized in a British children’s magazine, The Boy’s Athenaeum, in
> 1875: “Oh, curses light upon them all! I am foiled—foiled—utterly foiled!”
> And here’s a stage example, from Benjamin W. Hollenbeck’s After Ten Years
> (1885): “Foiled again! Curse my ill luck.”
> By the late 19th century the cursing-and-foiling device had become a
> cliché, a fact not overlooked by humorists.
> We found this passage in Charles Gurdon Buck’s “Mervorfield,” published in
> an American humor anthology in 1886:
> “ ‘We are foiled! foiled!’ ‘Are we?’ said Bill. ‘What ought we to do when
> we are foiled?’ ‘Why, I suppose we ought to go away, muttering hideous
> curses.’ ”
> Here’s a later example, from J. M. Barrie’s memoir of his life as a
> smoker, My Lady Nicotine (1890): “When they are foiled by the brave girl of
> the narrative, it is the recognized course with them to fling away their
> cigars with a muffled curse.”
> It wasn’t long before the appearance of the full phrase “Curses! Foiled
> again.”
> The earliest example we’ve found is from the Nov. 25, 1911, issue of a
> Michigan newspaper, the Flint Daily Journal. This is the item in its
> entirety:
> “It is presumed that when Uncle Jud Harmon read in his morning paper that
> another ship had taken Col. Bryan off the stranded Prinz Joachim, he
> muttered between his teeth, ‘Curses! Foiled again.’ ”
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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