>A somewhat drifty sidenote, to show the phrase not entirely ." /> mudcat.org: Folk phrase survivals? >A somewhat drifty sidenote, to show the phrase not entirely " />
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Folk phrase survivals?

MGM·Lion 16 Aug 10 - 07:50 AM
Old Vermin 16 Aug 10 - 07:55 AM
theleveller 16 Aug 10 - 08:44 AM
MGM·Lion 16 Aug 10 - 09:18 AM
McGrath of Harlow 16 Aug 10 - 06:39 PM
GUEST 16 Aug 10 - 07:51 PM
Uncle_DaveO 16 Aug 10 - 09:10 PM
McGrath of Harlow 17 Aug 10 - 03:32 PM
Old Vermin 17 Aug 10 - 03:46 PM
Young Buchan 17 Aug 10 - 04:15 PM
Uncle_DaveO 17 Aug 10 - 04:26 PM
Uncle_DaveO 17 Aug 10 - 05:30 PM
MGM·Lion 18 Aug 10 - 04:26 AM
Les in Chorlton 18 Aug 10 - 04:35 AM
Les in Chorlton 18 Aug 10 - 05:47 AM
theleveller 18 Aug 10 - 07:23 AM
Banjovey 18 Aug 10 - 07:46 AM
Tug the Cox 18 Aug 10 - 07:16 PM
mayomick 19 Aug 10 - 01:28 PM
LadyJean 20 Aug 10 - 01:06 AM
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Subject: Folk phrase survivals?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 Aug 10 - 07:50 AM

I recently put the following on the "Dead Horse Chantey' thread:

>>A somewhat drifty sidenote, to show the phrase not entirely dead: when my late wife & I moved to this village 33 years ago, our London-born next-door neighbour {whom I saw recently and who is still alive in her 70s} mentioned in conversation with my wife that someone she knew had recently started a new job, for which she had received some advance payment; so that, she said "she is just working dead-horse at the moment".

Drifting even further, re another song: the same neighbour would always refer to buying second-hand clothes at a charity shop as "going to rag-fair".<<

I repeat this here, with the question: has anyone else any similar examples of phrases or usages specific to familiar folksongs surviving into current or recent usage? {Our neighbour, I should stress, was unaware of the folksong antecedents of her phrases until I told her of them. They were, to her, she said, just phrases that had been in use during her North London (Holloway Road) upbringing.}

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: Old Vermin
Date: 16 Aug 10 - 07:55 AM

'Another string to your bow' is still about. Probably refers to archers rather than musicians. The 14th C practice was to keep bowstrings dry under the the archer's cap.


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: theleveller
Date: 16 Aug 10 - 08:44 AM

Variations of the phrase "From Hull, Hell and Halifax, good Lord deliver me", commonly known as The Beggar's Litany, has been used in many songs throughout the ages – I've even written one myself as my grandfather used to say it to me. It refers to three 'fates' feared by beggars in Yorkshire: Hull was infamous for its press gangs which would take anyone caught roaming the streets after dark; beggars did not have the benefit of clergy so feared dying 'unshriven'; and the Halifax gibbet was an early form of guillotine where anyone caught stealing goods valued at more than 13 pence was beheaded on market day.

The earliest reference I've found is in a poem by the London 'Water Poet', John Taylor, who was writing between 1612 and 1653, so the phrase must have been in common use at that time:

"There is a Proverbe, and a prayer withall,
That we may not to these strange places fall,
From Hull, from Halifax, from Hell, 'tis thus,
From all these three, Good Lord deliver us.
This praying proverb's meaning to set down,
Men do not wish deliverance from the Town:
The towns named Kingston, Hull's furious River:
And from Hull's dangers, I say Lord deliver.
At Halifax, the law so sharp doth deal,
That whoso more than 13 Pence doth steal,
They have a jyn that wondrous quick and well,
Sends thieves all headless unto Heav'n or Hell.
From Hell each man says, Lord deliver me,
Because from Hell can no redemption be:
Men may escape from Hull and Halifax,
But sure in Hell there is a heavier tax,
Let each one for themselves in this agree,
And pray, from Hell good Lord deliver me."


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 Aug 10 - 09:18 AM

These two responses are both interesting. But what I am particularly looking for is phrases that we Catters all know from songs surviving into everyday demotic or idiomatic speech, as "dead horse" and "rag-fair" did into that of the friend whose conversations I quoted in OP. Anyone come across any of such?

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 16 Aug 10 - 06:39 PM

"Beating a dead horse" is quite a commonly used expression.


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: GUEST
Date: 16 Aug 10 - 07:51 PM

likewise 'another string to your bow'


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 16 Aug 10 - 09:10 PM

beggars did not have the benefit of clergy so feared dying 'unshriven';

"The benefit of clergy" does not refer to the desirability of having the services of a priest before death, as implied in the above. It's a legal concept from the Middle Ages.

In times when a literate man was a rarity, and a great asset to the society, English law provided that a malefactor who could prove his ability to read and write, in Latin, was pardoned, as long as he went into the service of the Church, where his services in reading and writing would be a great help, not only to the Church itself but to the nobility and royalty and government generally.

How did a malefactor prove this? By claiming the applicability of the statute that set out "benefit of clergy". If he did, a priest would be assigned to test him by giving him a Bible section which he had to read at sight. I seem to remember that it was a certain prescribed passage, perhaps the Lord's Prayer or the 23rd Psalm. There may also have been a writing ability test, I forget.

The "benefit of clergy", then, was twofold: The beneficial effects were those of having a priest certify to his literacy and thus save him from prison or death; and being provided employment by the Church, which was not an unmixed blessing, however. It was mandatory lifetime employment, in effect as a serf belonging to the Church; if he absconded from his duties, he was subject to summary application of civil punishment for the original crime.

The bad effect of claiming "benefit of clergy" was that anyone who was not already in the organizational church but was literate in Latin was likely to be nobility (although there not too many even of those), or at least a gentleman, so being forced into the Church's employ was almost surely a massive comedown in status and standard of living.

"Benefit of clergy" went out of practice for a long time, and was essentially forgotten but not repealed. It was only in the late 19th or early 20th Century that a man accused of murder, I think it was, claimed benefit of clergy. The reaction was, "Oh no, that's medieval; that hasn't been the law for a long time!" It had indeed been a long, long, long time--probably centuries--since it had been applied. Those learned in the law went into it, though, and sure enough, it was still on the books. The accused murderer was tested and passed, so the accused was remanded to the Church for the rest of his life. The ancient privilege of "benefit of clergy" was fairly promptly repealed.

Before someone accuses me of naively passing on an apocryphal urban legend, I will tell you that I learned this from Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples, a massive and scholarly two or three volume work which I recommend.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 17 Aug 10 - 03:32 PM

Massive and scholarly, but possibly at times Winston was too fond of a good story to let the facts get in teh way.

As I've understood it "benefit of clergy" was about the practice that, if a cleric commited an offence, it was up to the church to deal with him by Church law, rather than the secular authorities by Crown law.


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: Old Vermin
Date: 17 Aug 10 - 03:46 PM

Thought it referred to allowing last rites before execution 'Take him away and let him have a priest.'


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: Young Buchan
Date: 17 Aug 10 - 04:15 PM

I see what Michael is getting at, but there is a problem. If he had for instance asked what phrases had gone into common parlance from cricket there would be no difficulty, because the traffic is all one way: cricket doesn't take idiomatic expressions from English and use them as technical terms. But traffic between song and speech is two-way and it is often difficult to know whether a phrase originated in the song, or whether the songwriter took it up because it was the phrase of the moment.

For example one of my grandmothers was, when fed up with doing everything for me, inclined to say 'If you want any more you can sing it yourself'. Old as she was, I doubt if she was older than Robin-a-Thrush; but the phrase might have been, and could have passed to her through an oral tradition that ran parallel to the song tradition.

In some ways I'm inclined to believe that the phrase Sweet Fanny Adams would not have come to us without the fact that the ballad had carried the story everywhere, allowing the story of the origin which roughly runs:
Private: Sergeant, what meat's in this pie?
Sergeant: Sweet Fanny Adams, son.

Yes of course the story generally could have spread through newspapers etc. But surely the Sweet bit is specific to the ballad?


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 17 Aug 10 - 04:26 PM

McGrath said, in part:

As I've understood it "benefit of clergy" was about the practice that, if a cleric commited an offence, it was up to the church to deal with him by Church law, rather than the secular authorities by Crown law.

That's part of the same thing, as I get it. The malefactor, if qualified, is taken into the arms of the church and is subject to church law rather than the civil law. It's just a little wider picture than I had painted.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 17 Aug 10 - 05:30 PM

And I just Wikipedia'd it. I was more or less in the ball park with my original recital. BUT! It had been too many years since I read Churchill's history, so I had some things wrong.

Among other things, it seems the reading test was abolished during Elizabeth I's reign, so the story about the modern malefactor getting off was wrong. Where I got that, I don't know.

The whole issue arose out of Becket's revolt, of sorts, against Henry VIII. In order to quiet the clerical uproar, certain offenses were given back to the Church to try and to discipline.

There were some crimes that were nonclergyable, as it were, treason being the one that sticks in my mind. Strangely enough, murder was not nonclergyable, but picking pockets was.   

Anyway, "benefit of clergy" did not refer to shriving before death.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 18 Aug 10 - 04:26 AM

Becket's revolt against Henry VIII!? Just a typo I presume, Dave ~~ or, rather, lapse of concentration: but several hundred years out!.

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 18 Aug 10 - 04:35 AM

A friend of my mother's (born turn of the 19C), on seeing an Ambulance driver she knew from way back said:

"He was the one who put the pig on the wall to watch the band march past"

Years later I danced wit Gorton Morrismen at the opening of 'The Pig on the wall' pub in East Manchester.

L in C#


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 18 Aug 10 - 05:47 AM

Turning into the 20C that is

L in C#


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: theleveller
Date: 18 Aug 10 - 07:23 AM

"Anyway, "benefit of clergy" did not refer to shriving before death."

Oh dear, I must be more precise in my phraseology. I was using shorthand for saying that, as vagrants, 'masterless men' did not belong to a parish and, therefore, did not attend church services or receive the sacraments. Of course, they could still be whipped and branded if found begging in a parish to which they did not belong. A more detailed account can be found in Christopher Hill's excellent book 'Liberty Against the Law'.


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: Banjovey
Date: 18 Aug 10 - 07:46 AM

this thread brings to mind something a young woman said to me many years ago when talking about her unfaithful boyfriend. She had split up with him as he had "been playing the baker". A similar phrase occurs in a London song, possibly from the Critics Group that I heard in the 1960's


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: Tug the Cox
Date: 18 Aug 10 - 07:16 PM

The opposit also happens....the childrens dancing song ' There sits poor sally in the sand'   originally had the line

I would't part from my true love
for fourpence ha'penny farthing' ( Violet Gomme)

In leiceater in the 80's this was a popular game in the playgrounds, but the phrase now, instead of 'fourpence ha'penny farthing' they now sang 'oops, beg your pardon', which presumably made more sense in post decimilisation times.
( Fourpence ha'penny farthing is also the name of a Playford dance)


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: mayomick
Date: 19 Aug 10 - 01:28 PM

Uncle tom cobbley and all


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Subject: RE: Folk phrase survivals?
From: LadyJean
Date: 20 Aug 10 - 01:06 AM

My mom was born in 1917, in Western Pennsylvania. She used the phrase "All over Israel", to mean all over the place. She also spoke of potholed streets as "The Rocky Road to Dublin", perhaps because the rocks on the road kept doublin and doublin. (Sorry!)


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