An unmarried female originally received the designation of Spinster
from her employment at the distaff or spindle. According to the practical notions of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers, a female was not considered fit to enter the married state until she had made for herself a complete set of body, bed, and table-linen. Hence the significance of the term Wife
, derived from the Anglo-Saxon wif, by virtue of the verb wyfan, to weave. The designation Widow
is an Indo-European importation, derived from the Sanskrit vid-hava, without husband. Grass Widow
, denoting a woman temporarily separated from her husband, is a corruption of " Grace Widow " —in other words, a widow by grace, or courtesy. The word Chaperon
is French, derived from the chapeau, or cap, worn by the duennas of Spain. Duenna
, signifying a guardian, is Spanish, founded upon the Latin domina, a mistress. The title of Dowager
, which distinguishes a widow left with a jointure from the wife of her late husband's heir, comes from the French douairiere, built upon the verb douaire, to dower. The name of Blue Stocking
arose from the colour of the stockings worn by the members of the lady clubs in England during the days of Boswell. Gentlemen were not excluded from these assemblies, but the wearing of blue stockings was a sine qua non of admittance. The last surviving member of the original Blue Stocking Club, founded by Mrs. Montague in 1780, died in 1840. The earliest Blue Stocking assembly came into existence at Venice, under the title of Delia Calza in the year 1400. A lady's-maid is familiarly styled an Abigail
, in allusion to the handmaid who introduced herself to David (1 Samuel xxv. 23). This class-name came into particular prominence during the early part of the eighteenth century, in compliment to Abigail Hill, the maiden name of Mrs. Mashem, the waiting-woman of Queen Anne. A Parisian shop or work-girl is known as a Grisette
on account of the grey cloth of which her dress is made. In olden times all inferior classes in France were expected to be clad in gris, i.e., grey. Colleen
is the native Irish for girl; and Colleen Bawn
for a blonde girl. How-little the latter expression is understood by actresses is shown by the way in which some of them essay to impersonate (?) the heroine of Dion Boucicault's well-known drama whilst wearing their own dark hair or a dark wig. Truly, a little knowledge is a useful thing !
As nowadays comprehended, a Milliner is one who retails hats, feathers, bonnets, ribbons, and similar appurtenances to female costume. The name is really a corruption of Milaner, alluding to the city of Milan, which at one time set the fashion to the north of Europe in all matters of taste and elegance. Haberdasher is a modern form of the Old English word Hapertaser, or a retailer of hapertas cloth, the width of which was settled by Magna Charta. Grocer is a contraction and modified spelling of Engrosser, the denomination of a tradesman who, in the Middle Ages, claimed a monopoly for the supply of provisions. A vendor of vegetables is appropriately called a Greengrocer. An innkeeper is facetiously styled a Boniface in honour of a devout and hospitable man whom St. Augustine caused to be canonized, and who subsequently became the patron saint of Germany. Shakespeare, Dante, Bacon, and Lamb never tired of referring to Boniface. Ostler is a corruption of the French hostelier, an innkeeper; hence we sometimes speak of an inn as a Hostelry. The term Carpenter, from the Latin carpentum, a waggon, originally denoted a mechanic who constructed the wooden body of a vehicle of any kind, as distinguished from the Wheelwright; but in process of time the same term came to be applied to artificers in timber generally. The provincial name for such a one is a Joiner, literally a joiner of wooden building materials. In some districts of England a shoemaker still bears the name of Cordwailier. Formerly all shoemakers were styled Cordwainers, because they were workers in Cordwain, a corruption of Cordovan, which was the name of a particular kind of leather brought from Cordova. The designation Tailor is an Anglicized form of the French Tailleur, derived from the verb tattler, to cut. A Pawnbroker is familiarly called Uncle, in perpetuation of an ancient pun on the Latin word uncus, a hook. For, whereas in modern times the spout is employed as a means of communication between the pawnshop and the store-rooms overhead, the Roman pawnbrokers used a large hook; and accordingly, the expression "Gone to the uncus," was equivalent to our slang phrase " Up the spout." A Barber derives his class-title from the Latin barba, a beard. Rude and semi-civilized tribes were anciently called Barbarians, because they belonged to no order of society. Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries the hairdressers of this country combined the practice of surgery, and were accordingly styled Barber-Surgeons. The surviving "Barber's Pole" attests this fact. The separation of the two professions took place in 1540.
A shepherd or an ideal farmer bears the poetical description of an Arcadian, in allusion to the Arcadians, who were a pastoral people. A friendly adviser is designated a Mentor, in memory of the wise and faithful counsellor of Telemachus so named. The word Usher signifies a doorkeeper, agreeably to the Old French huisher, a door. Bachelor comes from the Welsh bach, small, young. This name originally meant one inexperienced in anything. The title of Bachelor of Arts denotes a degree next below that of Master of Arts.
Beefeaters is a vulgar perversion of Buffetiers, as the Yeoman of the Guard were styled during the reign of Henry VIII., on account of their attendance upon the King's Buffet, or side-table. The word Buffet is French, derived from the Spanish bufia, a wineskin. The civic guardians of law and order are denominated Police in accordance with the Greek polis, the city. For many years after the establishment of the Police through the measures of Sir Robert Peel (in Ireland, as the national constabulary in 1814; in London as a regular force in 1829), all Policemen were nicknamed Bobbies and Peelers, in allusion to their founder. Bow Street Runners were the original London detective force; so called because their headquarters was Bow Street, whence they were despatched to any part of the country in quest of the perpetrator of a particular crime. The predecessors of the Police were a set of decrepit old watchmen whose regular habit was to fall asleep in their boxes with their lanthorns beside them. These were derisively nicknamed Old Charlies; while their natural enemies, who loved nothing so much as to turn their boxes upon them, to molest defenceless females, mutilate males, and in many other ways to terrorize the peaceable inhabitants of the Metropolis, styled themselves first of all Scourers, and at a later date Mohocks, after the North American Indian tribe of that name. During the years 1859 and 1860 an even more grievous terror haunted the streets of London in the persons of The Garrotters, so called from the Garrotte, the instrument with which condemned malefactors are strangled in Spain. The punishment of the "cat 0' nine tails" for "Garrotting," which came into operation July 13, 1861, gradually put an end to the practice. The latest terror of the streets which, unhappily, abounds in American cities, are the Sandbaggers, so called because they stun their victims with an ordinary sand-bag, such as is used to keep the draught from penetrating between a pair of window-sashes; after which robbery becomes an easy matter.
Pleasanter it is to turn from the birds of night to the fops and dandies by day. The word Fop comes from the German foppen, to make a fool of; and Dandy from the French dandin, a ninny. Between these two poor specimens of humanity there is no perceptible difference. The Macaronies of the last century derived their designation from the fashionable " Macaroni Clubs " to which they belonged. The modern class-title of Masher finds its origin in the Romany or gipsy word mdsha, signifying " to fascinate the eye." En passant, the term Gipsy is a corruption of Egyptian, so called because the original family or tribe of low caste Hindoos expelled by Timour about the year 1399 eventually travelled into Europe by way of Egypt. The Gipsies were also in former times known as Bohemians, from the district in which they first attracted popular attention before they scattered themselves over Western Europe. Hence, any individual whose habits are unconventual, and to a certain extent nomadic, is styled a Bohemian. The name of The Upper Ten applied to the aristocracy, is short for " The Upper Ten Thousand," a term originally applied by N. P. Willis, the American poet (born 1807, died 1867), to the fashionables of New York who, at the time he introduced it, numbered about ten thousand, A distinctly latter-day expression conveying much the same signification is The Four Hundred, by which we are left to conclude that the " select" society of New York must have undergone a considerable weeding-out during the last twenty years.
The temperance terms Teetotal and Teetotaler originated in the stuttering exhortation of one Richard Turner, an artizan of Preston, who, while addressing a meeting of abstainers in September, 1833, observed that " Nothing but t-t-t-total abstinence will do ! " Several bodies of total abstainers from alcoholic beverages in England and America style themselves Rechabites, after the descendants of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, who lived in tents and foreswore wine. Others rejoice in the name of Good Templars, after the Templars of old. The Good Templar Movement cannot be accurately described as a crusade against drink; but the League of the Cross, established by the Roman Catholics for the total suppression of drunkenness, is, in title and in fact, one of the most powerful crusades ever distinguished in modern times.
A sailor is called a Jack Tar because he puts on tarpaulin "overalls" in "dirty weather." Longshoreman is a corruption of alongshoreman, i.e., a wharfinger, &c. Navvy is a contraction of Navigator, which name was first given to the labourers employed in the construction of canals for inland navigation. A cabman is popularly styled a Jehu in allusion to one of the kings of Israel noted for his furious driving. A Jerry Builder is so called after one Jeremiah, a London builder who amassed a fortune by putting up houses with inferior materials in order to sell them at a large profit. A Journeyman is properly one who hires himself out to work by the day, agreeably to the first portion of the word Jour, the French for day. A debt-collector is known as a Dun, and his persistence is styled " Dunning," in memory of Joe Dun, a famous bailiff of Lincoln, who was so successful in the discharge of his duties that it became quite customary when an individual refused to pay his debts to exclaim, " Why don't you Dun him for it ? " which was tantamount to saying, " Why don't you send Dun to arrest him ?" Whilst on the subject of law, we may here add that the expression A Man of Straw, employed to denote a person without capital or means, originated in the days when a certain class of men, chiefly ruined tradesmen, found it a profitable occupation to hire themselves out as witnesses in the law courts. The recognized mark of these persons was a wisp of straw protruding from their shoes; and as often as a lawyer stood in need of a convenient witness to prove his case, he knew by the presence of " a pair of straw shoes " in court that the owner of the said shoes would recollect and swear to any incident in consideration of a fee.
Costermonger is a corruption of Costardmonger, a seller of the famous costard apple introduced into this country by the Dutch in 1736. Both these terms are used by Shakespeare ; nevertheless, they bore a totally different signification in his time. The word Monger comes from the Anglo-Saxon mongere, one who trades. An itinerant salesman in the olden time was styled a Pedlar, in accordance with the Latin.pedes, the feet, because he travelled on foot; whereas Hawker comes from the German hoken, to carry on the back, to retail. Hawkers and Pedlars were first licensed in England in 1698. An itinerant salesman of another kind is known as a Cheap Jack on account of the word "cheap" which is Saxon for market, derived from ceapan, to buy. A travelling medicine-vendor originally received the nickname of Quack-doctor, or Quack, from Quacksalber, the German term for quicksilver, because, differing from the regular practitioners, he resorted to mercury and other dangerous ingredients. At times a Quack, or any other individual gifted with humorous colloquial powers, is dubbed a Merry Andrew, in allusion to Andrew Borde, a physician of the time of Henry VIII, noted for his facetious manners and sayings. Juggler is a corruption of jongleur, the French designation of one of the companions of the troubadours, whose business it was to supplement the lyrical accomplishments of the latter with feats of sleight-of-hand and other tricks for the amusement of the company. A Stump Orator is properly one who delivers a speech from the stump of a tree; the literal meaning of a Stump Speech being thus explained.
The now approbrious name of Blackguard was formerly given to the scullions or dirty dependants of the English Court who washed out the saucepans, carried coals up to the kitchens, and performed other menial duties. As the "Guards of Honour" in the Royal Household were distinguished by their fine appearance, so these kitchen-men were equally distinguished by their grimy appearance ; consequently the latter were styled "Black Guards." The origin of the word Scullion was the Norman-French esculle, a porringer or dish. The place where the dishes are cleansed is still called a Scullery, while the domestic who performs such work bears the name of Scullery Maid. A rascal or sharper is designated a Blackleg, because such a one was generally to be found among the lower orders of turf and sporting men at the time these were especially characterized by the wearing of black top-boots. A Plunger is one who bets heavily either on the turf or at the gaming-table, without consideration for the risks he incurs. A Bookmaker is so called because he arranges his book, i.e., his bets, in such a manner that his losses and gains upon each day's racing must balance themselves. The Bookmaker who absconds after a race in order to avoid paying those who have entered bets with him and won is styled a Welsher, in allusion to the thieving propensities of a certain race of people, as set forth in the old song, which begins, " Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief," &c. The word Burglar is made up of the Old English burgh, a borough, derived from the German burg, a fortified place, and the French lair, a thief; the allusion being that such a one breaks into a private dwelling for purposes of theft. Down to a comparatively recent date the common hangman in this country bore the nickname of Jack Ketch, really a corruption of Richard Jacquett, to whom the manor of Tyburn, where our malefactors were executed prior to the year 1783, belonged.
A native of London is popularly styled a Cockney, pursuant to the Old English cockeney, an effeminate person, or rather one who has been rendered effeminate by the luxuries of the table; this term tracing its origin directly from the Latin verb coquere, to cook, whence we have the Italian cuchina, the French cuisine, the German kiiche, and the English kitchen. A popular satiric poem of the thirteenth century, entitled "The Land of Cockaygne,"--i.e., Kitchen Land, draws a picture of an imaginary Fool's Paradise, where there is nothing but eating and drinking, where care, trouble, and toil find no place—a desirable country for those monks of the Church who delight in the pleasures of the table rather than the observance of their spiritual exercises. After this performance the term Cockaigne or Cockaygne gradually came to be applied to our capital city, where cochenies, or kitchen-servants, abounded, and where the luxury of good living was supposed to attain its highest development.
A raw youth, or a countryman new to the ways of the world, is dubbed a Greenhorn, in reference to the undeveloped horns of a young ox; the word " Green " being derived from the Anglo-Saxon grene, that which is in process of growing. Nincompoop is a corruption of the Latin phrase non compos [mentis], not in sound mind. A person of defective mind is called a Lunatic, from the Latin luna, the moon, in accordance with the Roman idea that the mind was affected by the changes of the moon. A person addicted to making foolish mistakes is styled a Dutchman, in allusion to the dull comprehensions supposed to be possessed by the inhabitants of the Low Countries. The term first came into use as an epithet of derision during the wars with Holland. A Humbug is one whose representations, though sounding plausible enough, are not to be relied upon. The origin of this word is as follows: In olden times there resided in the neighbourhood of the Mearns, in Scotland, a gentleman of landed property whose name was Hume, and whose estate was known as " The Bogue." Owing to the great falsehoods which this "Hume of the Bogne" was in the habit of relating about himself, his family, and everything connected with his affairs, it became customary, as often as the people of that district heard anything at all remarkable or absurd to exclaim, "That is a Hume of the Bogue." The word spelt in its present form first appeared on the title-page of "The Universal Jester: a choice collection of bonmots and humbugs," published by Fernando Killigrew about the year 1736. The assurance that Humbug is of such old date can scarcely tend to our satisfaction.
"Class Names and Nicknames," Names: And Their Meaning -- A Book for the Curious, 1893, pages 228-240.