Heidi Harley says she is “not the kind of linguist who is heavy into antedating and sourcing,” but she happened to run into a citation for eggnog that beat the OED’s 1825 date and posted on Language Log about it: a poem by 18th-century clergyman and philologist Jonathan Boucher contained the lines

Fog-drams i’ th’ morn, or (better still) egg-nogg,
At night hot-suppings, and at mid-day, grogg,
My palate can regale:

The poem seems to have been written around 1774, but as Joel S. Berson points out in this guest post at the Log, the OED would use the date of publication, 1807, rather than the apparent (but unprovable) date of the poem. Not to worry, however, because Joel found a nice citation from the Oct. 16, 1788 issue of the Independent Gazetteer (Philadelphia):

Rummaging now the brain, many conceits may be found, much truth of all kinds, whole store rooms of curses and unmentionable damns, with devils of all shapes and colours, thousands of encomiums on oysters, hot suppers, and devilish fine wines; and there are so many different qualities and dispositions that intestine wars are never over; when wine and beer, punch and eggnog meet, instantly ensues a quarrel, and it is raised so high, that the brains boil like mush in a pot with heat, and was it not for the holes I before mentioned, which let out the steam, the skull must be cracked.

Now, the odd thing is that the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate gives the date of eggnog as “ca. 1775.” Are they also working from the Boucher poem, or do they have an early citation they’re keeping to themselves?
Utterly unrelated, but I have to share something I ran across in the OED while perusing the latest list of new additions (PURPRESS to QUIT SHILLING). They give the etymology of Q-tip as “the initial letter of QUALITY n. + TIP n.” and then add in small type: “The product was app. invented in 1923 by Leo Gerstenzang, a Polish-born American, who initially named them Baby Gays. In 1926 the name was changed to Q-tips Baby Gays, and later shortened to Q-tips.” I’ll bet they thank their lucky stars every day that Gerstenzang decided to change the name.


  1. “Baby Gays” makes sense to me: they make it gay for your baby. Of course, the modern equivalent would be something like “Baby Funs.”
    Thanks for the bit on Q-tips.

  2. I had never heard of Q-tips. In Australia we call them cotton buds, as they do in Britain (according to Wikipedia).

  3. aldiboronti says

    Yes, definitely cotton buds in the UK. OED though is blind to the usage, which is odd as it’s been around since at least the 1970s. I’m not sure whether it was proprietary in origin.

  4. Damn my parochial eyes—it didn’t even occur to me that non-Americans wouldn’t have heard of Q-tips. Sorry!

  5. Re MWCD11’s dating of eggnog as “ca. 1775”: On the American Dialect Society mailing list, Joanne Despres of Merriam-Webster does suggest they’re using the Boucher passage, based on the dating given by Mitford Mathews’ Dictionary of Americanisms and William Craigie’s Dictionary of American English.

  6. Aha—thanks!

  7. More fun! One more advantage of Google Books is that they can help track down etymological citations. GB lists a 1735 citation as it turns out. I’ve posted it on one of my Virtual Grub Street blogs as the explanation is kind of long for a blog comment and I will want to update the information I’ve provided re eggnog.

  8. Very good indeed! (But oh, how I hate “snippet view”…)

  9. I’m sorry to have to report that the 1735 date is crappy GB meta-data. Search for 1958.

  10. Been burned like that myself. Google Books IS a useful tool for tracing etymologies, but you can’t trust their dates (typed into the datebase by some underling; you need to see it on the title page), or overly rely on the snippet views. (For serials, they only enter the date of the first volume, which is not much help.)

  11. Well, the title page thumbnail shows 1958 on one page and no decipherable date on another. The book search entry for the “1735 editon” indicates one match (the one I cited) on one page dedicated to the book and no matches on another page again dedicated to it. It certainly leaves the matter very much in doubt. Given these facts, I must agree that the citation is not presently verifiable.

  12. I believe that it was still “iced cream” then, too. As late as 1882, you can see some old crank railing against that change.

  13. mollymooly says

    We certainly had “Q-tips” in Ireland in the 80s. They debranded into “cotton buds” for me around the time people were told not to put them in their ears. Always sounded like a Blue Peter phrase to me. I always thought they were made by Johnson & Johnson, but apparently they’re Unilever.

  14. Right on cue, the news wonders where caucus comes from. Jeremy over at PhiloBiblos pulls together the OED and his fellow colonial historians.

Speak Your Mind