[Ads-l] Antedating of "cubby-hole"

Steven Losie stevenlosie at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 7 03:12:10 UTC 2023

cubby-hole (OED, 1842)
Definition (b): "a very small and confined room or closet"

The term dates to at least 1824. It is used in a newspaper article
recalling the small attic room ("garret") hideout of Gen. Isaac Worrel and
an unnamed colonel of the Continental Army during the American Revolution
and Britain's occupation of Philadelphia in 1777-78:

...I must call the recollection, or examination of my fellow citizens to an
unobtrusive mansion that has it front on Walnut street, nearly midway
between 3d and 4th street; a reposing place for the aged and impoverished
of the society of Friends. Over a small avenue, on the western side of the
enclosure, is thrown an arch— over this arch is what is called a
_cubby-hole_, being an unfrequented garret. Thither was Gen. Worrel & the
Colonel conducted and there they remained daily supplied with food, until
the British left Philadelphia. After Lord Howe evacuated this city, the
General and Colonel had liberty to come down from their involuntary
elevation.[end quote]

Source: American Sentinel (Middletown, Connecticut)
Date: February 18, 1824
Page: 1
Column: 5
Database: America's Historical Newspapers (Readex/Newsbank)

The above article was reprinted from a newspaper called the "[illegible]
Gazette". Possible candidates include one of the various "United States
Gazette"s published out of Philadelphia (though the most famous of that
title had been renamed by 1824), or the Aurora and Franklin Gazette, also
out of Philadelphia. There were also various other "Gazette"s in New
England and the Mid-Atlantic states that the Connecticut newspaper could
have taken it from.

Other antedatings:

Having fretted yourself into a bad humor by sundry vain endeavors to elicit
a few puffs from that, you throw it into the fire, and go to bed in a small
cubby hole, just under the roof which is left partly open, to give the
weary traveller an opportunity of studying astronomy, while a parcel of
half drunken vagabonds are singing 'Paul Jones' in the bar room below.
[end quote]

Source: Scioto Gazette (Chillicothe, Ohio)
Article: COMPLAINTS OF A TRAVELLER. Extract of a letter to a gentleman in
the city of Detroit, Michigan Territory, dated[] NEWARK Ohio, January 10.
Date: March 10, 1830
Page: 4
Column: 4
Database: Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers (Gale)

...I reached the last step of the fourth flight leading to my Attic—my
quiet, sublime Attic, commanding a noble view of the Hudson river...


"Are you hurt much, Mr. B——?" said Timothy Vocal, issuing from his narrow
cubby-hole, which he, to the utter violation of truth and plausibility,
denominated his "_room_," and sometimes, in virtue of a small closet where
his three shirts were deposited, his "_apartments_."
[end quote]

Source: New-England Magazine (Boston, Massachusetts)
Date: July 1834
Page: 70
Database: Proquest

The room was, moreover, but poorly ventilated. The only vents for the air
were two or three small cubby holes, mere apologies for windows, and the
one narrow door.
[end quote]

Source: The Indiana Journal (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Article: Our Dutch Balls and the Dancing Damsels
Date: August 18, 1838
Page: 1
Column: 6
Database: Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers (Gale)

JEFFREY RICHARDSON, _of Boston_.— [..] We have watched his course during
the present session of the Legislature with some attention, and his seat in
the House being within fair view of our cubby-hole, we have had a good
opportunity to take notice of his movements, and to hear him whenever he
has seen fit to [t]hrow out his ideas to the House...
[end quote]
Source: Columbian Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts)
Article: Members of the House of Representatives
Date: April 10, 1839
Page: 1
Column: 2
Database: America's Historical Newspapers (Readex/Newsbank)

They were listening to "professor" Herrick, w[h]o, "solitary and alone"
occupied a little cubby hole where he whined out the most miserable discord
I ever heard, at the same time pretending to accompany himself on the piano.
[end quote]

Source: New York Daily Herald
Date: July 15, 1842
Page: 1
Columns: 4-5
Database: Chronicling America

There is also a poem originally published in the Providence (Rhode Island)
Journal in early 1825 which references "cubby holes", but the meaning of
the word is not entirely clear from the context. I could not find the
original online, but it was republished as early as the January 26, 1825,
edition of the Ithaca (New York) Journal, among others:

Them fellers they stand right up straight,
   And pick little pieces of lead;
Stuck in cubby holes thicker, I'll bate,
   Than seeds in our big parsnip bed.
[end quote]

Source: Ithaca (NY) Journal
Title: Jonathan's Visit to the Journal Office
Date: January 26, 1825
Page: 3
Column: 1
Database: NYS Historic Newspapers

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

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