Joel at Far Outliers has one of his Wordcatcher Tales posts, this one on heeltap and punkah louvre. The latter refers to air vents and was not that interesting to me, but heeltap is quite wonderful, and I intend to start using it immediately. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a small quantity of alcoholic beverage remaining (as in a glass after drinking)”; the OED has a nice selection of citations:

1780 Bannatyne Mirror No. 76. ⁋13 Having, it seems, left a little more than was proper in the bottom of his glass, he was saluted with a call of ‘No heeltaps!’
1820 Shelley Œdipus Tyrannus ii. ii. 35 All. A toast! a toast!.. Dakry. No heel-taps—darken daylights!
1836 E. Howard Rattlin xliv, No heel-taps after, and no day~light before.
1841 Dickens Old Curiosity Shop ii. lxii. 149 Toss it off, don’t leave any heeltap.
1859 L. Oliphant Narr. Earl of Elgin’s Mission China & Japan I. 203 Obliging us to turn over our glasses each time as a security against heel-taps.
1933 C. St. J. Sprigg Fatality in Fleet St. v. 55 Wait, I have still a heel-tap. I must drink a toast.

And there’s a typophile post asking the question “Why are quotation marks language-dependent?” There are interesting attempts to answer it in the comment thread; the first commenter suggests that “the lack of a single standardized convention prior to the spread of printing would have left open the opportunity for different national centers of printing to adapt and evolve different conventions.”


  1. The word “heeltaps” occurs in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books.
    Judging by the quotes above, “no heel-taps” seems to be a common phrase, a thing said when it’s time for a toast, meaning “time to drain your glass”.
    But when Jack says “bumpers now, gentlemen, no heeltaps” I think he means something different: “don’t just drink this toast with the little bit that happens in the bottom of your glass–fill the glass first”.

  2. The Online Ety says:
    heel-tap (n.) also heeltap, 1680s, “one of the bits of leather that are stacked up to make a shoe heel” (see heel (n.1)); meaning “bit of liquor left in a glass or bottle” first recorded 1780s; the exact connection is uncertain unless it be “the last or final part.”
    Or a visual connection – a small amount of dark ale in the bottom of the glass looking like a slice of leather. Perhaps originated in cobblers’ drinking clubs (giggle, because in UKEng slang, “cobblers” means rubbish…)
    … about which, to continue with origins, the UK Slang Dictionary says : “Rubbish, nonsense. From the rhyming slang cobblers awls, meaning ‘balls’.”

  3. happens to be

  4. I have a feeling there’s a Danish word for this, but I can’t have heard since I was a little kid, so it utterly escapes me now.

  5. Trond Engen says

    Sili: a Danish word for this

  6. Dreggjar is the Icelandic word.

  7. Jeffry House says

    Danish word? Not sure, but the Norwegian “red rus” word used to be “sluken”.

  8. Trond Engen says

    Jeffry House: the Norwegian “red rus” word used to be “sluken”
    Heh, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that. When and where?
    Of course, the Swedes with their superiour traditions of ritual drinking, must have many words for this.

  9. Sili: sjat
    As in sjatpisser, currently unknown to Google Translate: A male suffering from intermittent urination, or in general, an ineffectual but annoying individual.

  10. I’ll repeat here the comment I left at Typophile, in case anyone can shed light on it. Does anyone know how the German low-9/high-6 and the Scandinavian high-9/high-9 quotation marks came into use? It’s clear that the German pattern is the same style as the German facing-out guillemets, but that’s as far I can go.

  11. Unlike comparable European usage, ‘heeltap’ in Japan refers to the dregs of nonalcoholic as well as alcoholic drinks.

  12. John Cowan, do you mean when did it happen or who started it? Because for the overall process, as several people point out there, they all seem about equally removed from diple marks to me. IIRC, Pause and Effect, which I imagine you’ve read, just says something like each country in Europe ended up with its own position / roundness / etc.

  13. It must be admitted that the sensible place to put a question mark is at the beginning of a sentence.

  14. Jeffry House says

    Trond, I was red rus in 1962. Going from memory, it was “sluken” or maybe “slurken”. We had many, many opportunities to use this term. Also, “fnjolleboll”.

  15. Trond Engen says

    1963 was the year my mother was a russ in Oslo. Sadly, she never did anything to transmit her binge-drinking terminology to the next generation.
    A slurk is a mouthful of drink, so that makes a little more sense to me. Not that it has to make sense… Fnjolleboll is an ephemeral nonsense word, maybe from tulleball/i> “nonsense” and fjolle “goof”. How was it used?

  16. Trond Engen says

    Ouch! “1962 was the year”, I mean.

  17. Jeffry House says

    Fnjolleboll, or Fjollebnoll, was the mascott for red russ. It was some sort of cuddly something superimposed upon a naked foot, as I recall.
    We bought small pins with this image, because that’s what we had to do. We pinned the images on our hats, for the same reason. Then, we could make knots in the hats if we achieved various improbable accomplishments, mostly sexual. I had no knots.

  18. mollymooly says

    The fornication thread is closed (insert joke here) but to answer Brewer’s request for an example of “fornication” for sex-inside-marriage: The Queen of Spain’s Beard, first broadcast by the BBC on 6 July 1983. I was surprised at the time by the mistake.

  19. Trond Engen says

    Could it have been the mascot of the school or something? When I was a kid and found my nother’s hat, her studenterlue, in the attic, I remember asking her about the &. She told it was the token of her school Aars & Voss and that russ from other schools had other symbols on their hats, often a pun on the name. Oslo Katedralskole, “Katta”, had a cat, obviously, I believe those from Nissens Skole had a Santa’s hat, and I think she also said that Ris Gymnas was symbolized by a birch rod. But not always a pun — I just learned elsewhere that a spider has been the symbol of the students of for a long time, so that would probably have been used in the hats as well.
    In my day, 25 years later and in Bergen, we didn’t have little symbols on our hats. Instead we had large symbols on the back of our red boiler suits.

  20. Jeffry House says

    I believe it was more broad than just the symbol of the school, but honestly, at this point many certainties begin to dissolve. My school was Eikeli, so I don’t see a pun on fnjollebnoll.
    I lost my studenterlue in 1966.

  21. “And if our fathers meant by ‘No heeltaps’ that you were to drain the whole glassful at once, then, even with the addition of ‘skylight’, I think that, for once, our fathers were wrong. Beverage wines may be drunk in that fashion, of course, but nothing choice, and very specially not port, good claret or burgundy. But I prefer to think that they only barred the keeping of a remnant when you filled, so that you did not ‘drink fair’.” Saintsbury, “Notes on a Cellar Book’.
    Later I think he mentions a French Parliamentarian who spoke against those indentations under bottles, selling you glassy air when you want drink.

  22. narrowmargin says

    If I remember correctly, the indentation at the bottom of a bottle is called a “punt”.

  23. narrowmargin says

    Though I don’t know if that’s official or slang. It’s just the only word I’ve ever heard it called.

  24. narrowmargin says

    On second thought, perhaps it was called a “bunt”.

  25. John Cowan, do you mean when did it happen or who started it?
    I mean something like “What did they have in mind?”

  26. Trond Engen says

    Jeffry: Sorry if I’m giving this far more attention than it deserves. I’ll stop now.
    The usual Norwegian call to drink out is bånnski, &lt- Coll. E. No. bånn “bottom” + Quasi-Ru. -ski, and so it’s been for longer than I’ve been paying attention to such calls.
    A heeltap could be the wine or beer left in the bottom of a barrel or a low bend when tapping. The extension from barrels to glasses is trivial.

  27. J.W. Brewer says

    I appreciate mollymooly’s link although one could dispute whether a Blackadder context is consistent with the “non-jocularly” condition of my original request. And the reference itself is a bit ambiguous. The syntactically parallel “without crime, there is no prison” does not entail that crime occur during imprisonment, does it? More formally, I think “without X there is no Y” means X is a necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) condition of Y.

  28. What did they have in mind?
    I’m still not sure I’m going to answer your question.
    There are two parts of the progression to quotation marks from diple marks, which were used to mark off interesting passages, and in particular Bible references, in manuscripts. (Some examples in the typophile post. More details in, say, McKerrow.)
    First, from marks in the left (generally) margin to inline pieces of type placed on both ends of the quotation. This process actually took some time, which plenty of examples from the late 18th to early 19th centuries of marking the start of each line of a quotation on the left only. I imagine there is some interrelationship with the standardization of parentheses, but there I get past my basic knowledge.
    Second, from the wedge shape to the variety of modern national forms: squared off and made symmetrical like guillemets or rounded like commas. As I said, that design part seems like the sort of thing that early printers did in general. If I am not mistaken, diples were sometimes doubled, so there is no innovation there. And since they were generally on the left and open on the left, it seems equally natural to repeat the same mark on both (9-9) ends or to make a mirror-image on the right (9-6).
    The remarkable thing that remains is what started this out: that there is such variety in the Western world. For instance, an classic essay on this subject by McMurtrie called this out. I tend to think that’s just what happened and not that anyone make any conscious decision to diverge while they were developing.

  29. Narrowmargin – it’s “punt”. No idea what purpose it serves, though, or why it needs a name.

  30. I note that the Schurer edition printed in Strasbourg and mentioned in McMurtrie is said to use two commas in the margin, which suggests that a low-9 shape was used.
    As for the 18th century: ah, Sterne! Left margin quotation marks, shuggleftulation, and cicisbeo, all in three pages! When comes such another?

  31. low-9 shape
    Vertical alignment seems pretty haphazard.

  32. Thank you, bruce, for the quote related to the ambiguity of “no heeltaps” spoken by a host or the maker of a toast.
    But I prefer to think that they only barred the keeping of a remnant when you filled, so that you did not ‘drink fair’.
    That’s a third interpretation, the first being “drain the whole glassful at once” and the second (mine) being “don’t leave anything in your glass when we leave the table”.
    In the same book (The Nutmeg of Consolation) where Jack says “bumpers now, gentlemen, no heeltaps” the word is also used once to refer to a little bit left in a bottle.
    What exactly does “bumper” mean in this context? “Full glass”, I guess?

  33. For instance, an classic essay on this subject by McMurtrie called this out.
    Thanks very much for that delightful and informative read; I especially enjoyed his indignant excursus on authorities who keep repeating statements backed up by no actual facts.

  34. Jeffry House says

    Unless the McMurtie article has been superceded on this point since its 1934 publication, we are fast arriving at the 500th anniversary of the quotation mark, in 2016.
    I certainly hope government funding will be available to celebrate this; but if not, can we hope for a LH celebration?

  35. Narrowmargin – it’s “punt”. No idea what purpose it serves, though, or why it needs a name.
    I would hazard a guess that it was to trap as much as possible of the lees in poorly filtered wine, rather than it swilling around a flat bottom and thus probably up into the body of the wine when the bottle was being poured.

  36. Phi-
    Glad you like Saintsbury. Yes, I think ‘bumpers’ are glasses full to brim, or surface-tensioned a hair above.

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