Insufferable.

Short but sweet; courtesy of Grant Barrett’s Facebook feed, I present this snippet from James McQuade’s The Cruise of the Montauk to Bermuda, the West Indies and Florida (1890):

But everywhere we hear the insufferable abbreviation of “pants” for pantaloons. Abbreviated pantaloons are breeches. Then it is not a solid English word, but an Italian derivative, and although the use of pantaloons is permissible, the cutting short is reprehensible.

It’s from the top of page 217; if that link works for you, you can see the rest of his rant, which goes on to complain about the “vulgarism” of calling a game-cock a fighting rooster: “A cock is a cock and a hen is a hen, and both are roosters.” To quote Grant: “Just one time travel vortex plz to visit this 1890 peever and explain how it turned out.” Don’t let this happen to you! Stifle your peevery!

Comments

  1. To a peever, it doesn’t matter how it turned out, that’s mere empirical evidence. To the deepest of peevers, it doesn’t matter if 100% of anglophones, including himself, use word construction X: if it’s wrong, it’s Wrong.

  2. I wonder if there are still peevers who object to “pants.”

  3. Trond Engen says:

    I know some who pant to “objects” Does that help?

  4. Are those objects in the pantry?

  5. I object to this punnery.

  6. Samuel Butler (the more recent one), “A Psalm of Montreal” (1878, emphasis added)

    Stowed away in a Montreal lumber room
    The Discobolus standeth and turneth his face to the wall;
    Dusty, cobweb-covered, maimed and set at naught,
    Beauty crieth in an attic and no man regardeth:
                              O God! O Montreal!

    Beautiful by night and day, beautiful in summer and winter,
    Whole or maimed, always and alike beautiful—
    He preacheth gospel of grace to the skin of owls
    And to one who seasoneth the skins of Canadian owls:
                              O God! O Montreal!

    When I saw him I was wroth and I said, “O Discobolus!
    Beautiful Discobolus, a Prince both among gods and men!
    What doest thou here, how camest thou hither, Discobolus,
    Preaching gospel in vain to the skins of owls?”
                              O God! O Montreal!

    And I turned to the man of skins and said unto him, “O thou man of skins,
    Wherefore hast thou done thus to shame the beauty of the Discobolus?”
    But the Lord had hardened the heart of the man of skins
    And he answered, “My brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr. Spurgeon.”
                              O God! O Montreal!

    “The Discobolus is put here because he is vulgar—
    He has neither vest nor pants with which to cover his limbs;
    I, Sir, am a person of most respectable connections—
    My brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr. Spurgeon.”
                              O God! O Montreal!

    Then I said, “O brother-in-law to Mr. Spurgeon’s haberdasher,
    Who seasonest also the skins of Canadian owls,
    Thou callest trousers ‘pants,’ whereas I call them ‘trousers,’
    Therefore thou art in hell-fire and may the Lord pity thee!”

                              O God! O Montreal!

    “Preferrest thou the gospel of Montreal to the gospel of Hellas,
    The gospel of thy connection with Mr. Spurgeon’s haberdashery to the gospel of the Discobolus?”
    Yet none the less blasphemed he beauty saying, “The Discobolus hath no gospel,
    But my brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr. Spurgeon.”
                              O God! O Montreal!

  7. J.W. Brewer says:

    Some (but not all) 19th-century peevers might have tolerated poetic license to use “pants” if the more respectable “pantaloons” would have, in the poet’s professional judgment, presented metrical problems. The same way “‘neath” is acceptable as a shortened variant of “beneath” in poetry but not otherwise.

  8. Concerning the Discobolus: which kind of vest hath he not on?

  9. Both “pants” and “vest” are underwear nowadays in UK English, right?

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    Interesting that the Peever implies that “rooster” is (or was, or should be) sex-neutral. I’ve always supposed that “rooster” for “cock” is American prudery (like throwing rocks instead of stones, as we profane Goddams do) but hadn’t appreciated that the word originally did mean “unisex chicken.” It would certainly make more sense that way.

    That’s making the quite possibly unjustifiable assumption that the Peever is, in fact, correct. Has anyone over there ever actually called a hen a rooster?

    Malcolm Muggeridge (at the time himself a malignant child, virtually) did a hatchet job on Erewhon Butler so vicious as to make you feel almost sympathetic toward the man. It was called “The Earnest Atheist.” It passed a moderately interesting hour or so once for me once when I was skiving in the university library’s stacks as a youth instead of improving my brain.

  11. Lars (not the regular) says:

    Surely, if they come home to roost, they must be roosters?

  12. Surely, if they come home to roost, they must be roosters?

    …It’s apparently one of those transparent etymologies that I didn’t realize at all until someone pointed them out directly.

  13. Marja Erwin says:

    In past usage, man used to mean any human being, but in present usage, it’s restricted to wermen or guman. Similarly, in present AmE usage, rooster’s restricted to cocks.

  14. @Hat I wonder if there are still peevers who object to “pants.”
    @Keith I Both “pants” and “vest” are underwear nowadays in UK English, right?

    Yes in BrE, “pants” is short for “underpants”. This was always good for a snigger when I was a kid watching imported American TV.

    BrE is “trousers”. “Pants” has remained stubbornly in the underwear sense; notwithstanding “cargo pants” and “pantsuit”.

  15. I grew up (Melbourne) with “pants” in the trousers sense, “pantaloons” in the Drama Club wardrobe inventory sense, and “trousers” in the BBC comedy sense. Then I came to Japan and found that “pants” were even more firmly entrenched as underwear here, having arrived in advance of the American Century. So I am sniggered at in two languages, since my L1 pants sometimes show beneath my L2 pants, so to speak.

  16. The OED says that rooster is typically AmE, AusE, and NZE, and gives some HibE citations as well. It also says it was formerly English regional, but gives no citations. If I had to guess, it would be East Anglia, where the Puritans mostly came from. There is also a second sense ‘that which roosts’, with citations for hens, bats, starlings, and unspecified tree- and cavity-roosting birds.

  17. Scrolling up, he’s at least an equal opportunity peever. Calling your servants “the help” is reserved for the people who have not left the “ignorant past”. Okay then.

  18. African American riddle, known for having once been mangled to unintelligibility by a standardizing transcription:

    Why are hens only hens in the daytime?

    Because [dɛj rustəz] at night!

  19. That’s making the quite possibly unjustifiable assumption that the Peever is, in fact, correct. Has anyone over there ever actually called a hen a rooster?

    Checking the OED again, no, of course he isn’t. There is one and only one quotation in the OED for rooster in the sense ‘hen’, and it postdates references to rooster in the ordinary sense; furthermore, the author is Irish, presumably Anglo-Irish. Peever (who by the way is an American and writes in American English) has simply assumed that at one time rooster meant ‘unisex chicken’ based on its etymology.

    Here’s the citation in question: “1811 M[ary] Leadbeater Cottage Dialogues Gloss. 313 It will be advantageous to make a hen house over the sty, the warmth of the lower apartment being found peculiarly advantageous to the roosters in the attic.” (Her name is pronounced “Ledbetter”, as Wikipedia informs us.) It seems to me that “Roosters in the Attic” would be a fine name for something, perhaps a blog, with an allusion to “bats in the belfry”.

    As for help, it was used for the same reason that Americans called, and call, their supervisor the boss; because the English terms servant and master were applied in America to slaves and slaveowners respectively. And when you do slave-work as a free person, you have to take care that you don’t insensibly slip into slave status, as many a free Englishman found himself doing between 1066 and John Ball’s revolt of 1381. By 1890, the language of (non-)slavery was no longer needed in the U.S., and help was dying out. Here are some helpful OED citations:

    1807 C. W. Janson Stranger in Amer. 87 I am Mr ——’s help. I’d have you know..that I am no sarvant.

    1815 Massachusetts Spy 23 Aug. Our lady and gentleman ‘hired helps’ do not understand who is meant when their master is inquired for.

    1818 H. B. Fearon Sketches Amer. 80 Servants, let me here observe, are called ‘helps’. If you call a servant by that name they leave you without notice.

    Alas, I fear I must add that Peever may not even be an honest peever, for in earlier pages we find the sort of humor typified by asking the residents of Trinidad who the mayor of Utica (N.Y.) is, and denouncing them for “Cimmerian ignorance” when they don’t know. He therefore may simply be cracking wise all along.

  20. In the Leadbeater quote, “the roosters in the attic” is surely just a compressed expression, and maybe not a well-thought-out one, for “those that roost in the attic.”

  21. Alas, I fear I must add that Peever may not even be an honest peever, for in earlier pages we find the sort of humor typified by asking the residents of Trinidad who the mayor of Utica (N.Y.) is, and denouncing them for “Cimmerian ignorance” when they don’t know. He therefore may simply be cracking wise all along.

    Oh dear. Well, I’d tentatively apologize to the galumphing humorist (if such he was), but if you quack like a peever, you have to expect to end up as canard à l’orange.

  22. Mark Twain, as always, did it better.

    Concerning The American Language
    –[Being part of a chapter which was crowded out of “A Tramp Abroad.”– M.T.]

    There was as Englishman in our compartment, and he complimented me on — on what? But you would never guess. He complimented me on my English. He said Americans in general did not speak the English language as correctly as I did. I said I was obliged to him for his compliment, since I knew he meant it for one, but that I was not fairly entitled to it, for I did not speak English at all — I only spoke American.

    He laughed, and said it was a distinction without a difference. I said no, the difference was not prodigious, but still it was considerable. We fell into a friendly dispute over the matter. I put my case as well as I could, and said:

    “The languages were identical several generations ago, but our changed conditions and the spread of our people far to the south and far to the west have made many alterations in our pronunciation, and have introduced new words among us and changed the meanings of many old ones. English people talk through their noses; we do not. We say know, English people say nao; we say cow, the Briton says kaow; we–”

    “Oh, come! that is pure Yankee; everybody knows that.”

    “Yes, it is pure Yankee; that is true. One cannot hear it in America outside of the little corner called New England, which is Yankee land. The English themselves planted it there, two hundred and fifty years ago, and there it remains; it has never spread. But England talks through her nose yet; the Londoner and the backwoods New-Englander pronounce ‘know’ and ‘cow’ alike, and then the Briton unconsciously satirizes himself by making fun of the Yankee’s pronunciation.”

    We argued this point at some length; nobody won; but no matter, the fact remains Englishmen say nao and kaow for “know” and “cow,” and that is what the rustic inhabitant of a very small section of America does.

    “You conferred your ‘a’ upon New England, too, and there it remains; it has not traveled out of the narrow limits of those six little states in all these two hundred and fifty years. All England uses it, New England’s small population —
    say four millions — use it, but we have forty-five millions who do not use it. You say ‘glahs of wawtah,’ so does New England; at least, New England says ‘glahs.’ America at large flattens the ‘a’, and says ‘glass of water.’ These sounds are pleasanter than yours; you may think they are not right — well, in English they are not right, but ‘American’ they are. You say ‘flahsk’ and ‘bahsket,’ and ‘jackahss’; we say ‘flask,’ ‘basket,’ ‘jackass’ — sounding the ‘a’ as it is in ‘tallow,’ ‘fallow,’ and so on. Up to as late as 1847 Mr. Webster’s Dictionary had the impudence to still pronounce ‘basket’ bahsket, when he knew that outside of his little New England all America shortened the ‘a’ and paid no attention to his English broadening of it. However, it called itself an English Dictionary, so it was proper enough that it should stick to English forms, perhaps. It still calls itself an English Dictionary today, but it has quietly ceased to pronounce ‘basket’ as if it were spelt ‘bahsket.’ In the American language the ‘h’ is respected; the ‘h’ is not dropped or added improperly.”

    “The same is the case in England — I mean among the educated classes, of course.”

    “Yes, that is true; but a nation’s language is a very large matter. It is not simply a manner of speech obtaining among the educated handful; the manner obtaining among the vast uneducated multitude must be considered also. Your uneducated masses speak English, you will not deny that; our uneducated masses speak American it won’t be fair for you to deny that, for you can see, yourself, that when your stable-boy says, ‘It isn’t the ‘unting that ‘urts the ‘orse, but the ‘ammer, ‘ammer, ‘ammer on the ‘ard ‘ighway,’ and our stable-boy makes the same remark without suffocating a single h, these two people are manifestly talking two different languages. But if the signs are to be trusted, even your educated classes used to drop the ‘h.’ They say humble, now, and heroic, and historic etc., but I judge that they used to drop those h’s because your writers still keep up the fashion of patting an before those words instead of a. This is what Mr. Darwin might call a ‘rudimentary’ sign that as an was justifiable once, and useful when your educated classes used to say ‘umble, and ‘eroic, and ‘istorical. Correct writers of the American language do not put an before three words.”

    The English gentleman had something to say upon this matter, but never mind what he said–I’m not arguing his case. I have him at a disadvantage, now. I proceeded:

    “In England you encourage an orator by exclaiming, ‘H’yaah! ‘yaah!’ We pronounce it heer in some sections, ‘h’yer’ in others, and so on; but our whites do not say ‘h’yaah,’ pronouncing the a’s like the a in ah. I have heard English ladies say ‘don’t you’ — making two separate and distinct words of it; your Mr. Burnand has satirized it. But we always say ‘dontchu.’ This is much better. Your ladies say, ‘Oh, it’s oful nice!’ Ours say, ‘Oh, it’s awful nice!’ We say, ‘Four hundred,’ you say ‘For’ — as in the word or. Your clergymen speak of ‘the Lawd,’ ours of ‘the Lord’; yours speak of ‘the gawds of the heathen,’ ours of ‘the gods of the heathen.’ When you are exhausted, you say you are ‘knocked up.’ We don’t. When you say you will do a thing ‘directly,’ you mean ‘immediately’; in the American language — generally speaking — the word signifies ‘after a little.’ When you say ‘clever,’ you mean ‘capable’; with us the word used to mean ‘accommodating,’ but I don’t know what it means now. Your word ‘stout’ means ‘fleshy’; our word ‘stout’ usually means ‘strong.’ Your words ‘gentleman’ and ‘lady’ have a very restricted meaning; with us they include the barmaid, butcher, burglar, harlot, and horse-thief. You say, ‘I haven’t got any stockings on,’ ‘I haven’t got any memory,’ ‘I haven’t got any money in my purse; we usually say, ‘I haven’t any stockings on,’ ‘I haven’t any memory!’ ‘I haven’t any money in my purse.’ You say ‘out of window’; we always put in a the. If one asks ‘How old is that man?’ the Briton answers, ‘He will be about forty’; in the American language we should say, ‘He is about forty.’ However, I won’t tire you, sir; but if I wanted to, I could pile up differences here until I not only convinced you that English and American are separate languages, but that when I speak my native tongue in its utmost purity an Englishman can’t understand me at all.”

    “I don’t wish to flatter you, but it is about all I can do to understand you now.”

    That was a very pretty compliment, and it put us on the pleasantest terms directly — I use the word in the English sense.

    (Later — 1882. Esthetes in many of our schools are now beginning to teach the pupils to broaden the ‘a,’ and to say “don’t you,” in the elegant foreign way.)

    Note that Twain’s claim that English people say for hundred ‘400’ shows that the NORTH=FORCE merger was in effect in England, but not in America, or at least not in Twain’s own accent.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    JC, I am surprised by this:

    You [English] say, ‘I haven’t got any stockings on,’ ‘I haven’t got any memory,’ ‘I haven’t got any money in my purse; we usually say, ‘I haven’t any stockings on,’ ‘I haven’t any memory!’ ‘I haven’t any money in my purse.’

    I would have said the opposite about the two dialects.

  24. Of course I haven’t has meanwhile been replaced by I don’t have. I wonder what “alike” pronunciations Twain meant to represent with the spellings nao and kaow.

  25. Eli Nelson says:

    I wonder if the “a” was meant to to represent a schwa-like vowel, since the first part of the “goat” diphthong in British English is often identified with that sound.

  26. David Eddyshaw: …American prudery (like throwing rocks instead of stones, as we profane Goddams do)…

    This is still not a thing: http://languagehat.com/herta-muller-and-romanian/#comment-674563

  27. Eli Nelson,

    A Tramp Abroad was published in 1880. The “Received” [əʊ] in the GOAT set was not yet very widespread at the time. Judging from the fact that it sounded like the MOUTH vowel to Twain, it may have been the [ʌʊ ~ aʊ] type sound produced by the southestern diphthong shift. In the accents that have it, the MOUTH vowel has a front starting point, [æʊ ~ æə ~ æː], but I doubt if an American non-specialist (even as smart as Twain) would have appreciated the difference. Note that the characteristic broad Australian GOAT diphthong [æ̈ʏ] sounds like the KITE vowel (of all things) to some British people (whose general familiarity with Australian English is superficial).

  28. Australian GOAT diphthong [æ̈ʏ]

    I remember hearing it as unrounded, ending with an [ɪ].

  29. Squiffy-Marie van 't Blad, Dutchman-at-large says:

    We observe in passing that British English has developed a sense of “Rubbish; something worthless” for “pants”, as in “That article is utter pants”.

    (My old boss was an imported American professor who took to using that sense with relish.)

  30. When Peever wrote “both are roosters”, he had already mentioned the term “rooster”. Perhaps he was referring to what “roosters” would mean if it were a word, viz its compositional meaning, without claiming that it has a meaning independent of its structure. After all Mary Leadbeater used it with its compositional meaning, as Rodger C pointed out.

  31. Yes, but she was alone, all alone in the known history of the use of the word.

  32. “The Earnest Atheist.” […] passed a moderately interesting hour or so once for me once when I was skiving in the university library’s stacks as a youth instead of improving my brain.

    If reading in a library counts as wrong, I definitely don’t want to be right. But I have just read the parts of “The Earnest Atheist” that Google Books exposes, and I find it just another tedious Internet rant before its time, complete with “haters gotta hate” cliches. But perhaps “moderately interesting” is one of those Briticisms like “hilarity ensues”?

    As for help […]. Here are some helpful OED citations:

    Aw, nobody commented on this!

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