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Hunt for origin of neologisms

Graham Davies

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In conjunction with a major forthcoming BBC2 series, the Oxford English Dictionary has extended an invitation to the public to document the origin of a number of neologisms: http://oed.com/bbcwordhunt/

Here are a few, together with my comments. The dates in brackets are those for which the first printed evidence has been found.

full monty (1985): Certainly the expression was in existence long before the film came out. I clearly remember the "full monty" from the 1950s. In those days we smart young men bought our suits from Burton's, a reasonably priced high street chain of gentlemen's outfitters. One either bought a two-piece suit or a three-piece suit, which included a waistcoat, and was known as the "full monty". Why "monty"? The full name of the founder of the chain of shops was Montague Burton. I couldn't afford the "full monty", so I bought a charcoal grey two-piece (in 1958, if I remember correctly). Later on, we used the expression "full monty" for all kinds of things, e.g. a full English breakfast. One of our local greasy spoon cafes used to advertise "the full monty" on its blackboard - a real gut buster of a breakfast.

jaffa (1993): Cricketing term for an unplayable delivery. We used this expression back in the 1960s to describe men who had had a vasectomy - like a jaffa orange, with no pips (i.e. seeds). Maybe there's a link here with the cricketing term.

mushy peas (1975): I was eating mushy peas in the 1950s. I am sure I remember our loical chippy selling them.

nit nurse (1985): I remember the nit nurse from my earliest school days (1947 onwards). She was the nurse who visited the school and went through your hair looking for nits. My wife also remembers the expression from her schooldays in Belfast.

pass the parcel (1967): I remember this game from the earliest parties that I can recall: late 1940s, early 1950s. Layer after layer of the parcel had to be removed before the treasure within (usually an orange in the post-war years) was revealed. It's doubtless older than that as my parents played the game too.

phwoar (1980): Kenneth Connor certainly used this expression in the "Carry On" films when ogling beautiful women - 1950s onwards. Surely, it's printed in the scripts. isn't it?

ploughman's lunch (1970: I was eating ploughman's lunches in Devon in the 1960s. It was definitely on pub menus at that time.

something for the weekend (1990): My recollection is of men's barber shops in the 1950s when the assistant would ask casually, "Something for the weekend, sir?" after cutting one's hair, and my wife recalls working in a chemist's shop in Belfast in the 1950s in the days when contraceptives were freely available in Belfast but not in Eire and she would receive letters emanating from down South, requesting (usually urgently) a list of items: aspirins, a comb, elastoplast, something for the weekend.

See also Michael Quinion's World Wide Words: "Investigating international English from a British viewpoint" - a useful and amusing site that takes an oblique look at the English language: new words, weird words, fun words, slang, etc: http://www.worldwidewords.org

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Guest Andrew Moore

The ploughman's lunch is explained in the eponymous film (1983). It was an invention of a marketing person, in the days when pubs did not serve the range of food one finds today. The phrase occurs in the writing of Sir Walter Scott but does not reappear until the 1970s. Here is the text of an article in the Wikipedia.

"A ploughman's lunch is a cold snack or meal, often served in an English pub, featuring at a minimum, a thick piece of cheese (usually Cheddar, Stilton, or other local cheese), pickle (often Branston Pickle, sometimes piccalilli and/or pickled onions), crusty bap or chunk of bread, and butter.

It is often accompanied by a green salad; other common additions are half an apple, rocket, celery, pâté, sliced hard-boiled egg or beetroot.

Familiarity with the ploughman's lunch has lead catering companies to describe a sandwich containing Cheddar, pickle and salad as a "ploughman's sandwich."


The Oxford English Dictionary dates this phrase dates back to at least 1837, in the book Memoirs of the life of Sir Walter Scott by John G. Lockhart. The OED's next citation, however, is only from 1970, indicating a long period of time when the meal was virtually unknown in its native land. It is this long disuse and recent rediscovery that has lead some people, such as Richard Eyre, to portray the dish as being a recent invention dressed up as a traditional meal. Eyre directed The Ploughman's Lunch, a 1983 "issues" film whose subtext, according to the BFI, is "the way countries and people re-write their own history to suit the needs of the present"; the film's title is a metaphor for the rewriting said to have occurred in the aftermath of the Falklands War."

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