Yea, verily wast he tricked oute withe many fineries
May 16, 2012 10:43 PM   Subscribe

I recently came across the phrase "tricked out"--used just the way we use it today--in a book from the late 1800s. I was so shocked that I searched Project Gutenberg and found it used all over the place. What's the deal? And what are some other current-sounding phrases that go back further than you would think--used the way we use them today?
posted by circular to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 169 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This website, Prochronisms will probably interest you.

It's sort of the exact opposite of what you asked, but interesting in the same way. It compares two word phrases used in period pieces with the same two word phrase's use frequency in the time the show was supposed to be set. For instance, "black market" is a much more current phrase that probably shouldn't have been used by the scriptwriter for Downton Abby. Apparently nobody used that phrase back then.

Actually, looking at the website a little more, it looks like it does have some info on words it was surprising people did use back then. However, as it's just based on TV shows it doesn't go as far back at the 1800's, but language changes even from the 1910's to now are pretty neat!
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 11:24 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Slate thought they had caught an anachronism with Mad Men's use of the word "impactful." They were wrong.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:30 PM on May 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In the 1500s, trick was used to mean dressed or adorned. Out, in this sense, means (or was used to mean, anyhow) to the fullest extent. So tricked out, in the parlance of the sixteenth century, would basically mean fancied up as much as possible--as you pointed out, pretty much the same thing it means today.

Not a phrase, but the use of the word hot to refer to something sexually arousing also dates back to the 1500s.

I don't have more specific examples, but questions of this sort can often be answered with a good etymological dictionary. The best freely available one is, imo, Etymology Online, which has saved my ass many times over.
posted by MeghanC at 11:34 PM on May 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: nookie - 1928
pussy-whipped - 1956
posted by Locobot at 1:24 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The huge list of expressions that were coined by Shakespeare (or at least which were documented in his plays based on contemporary usage) contains many of these. One particular example from the end of the list: "zany" - used in Love's Labour Lost
posted by rongorongo at 2:16 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bah, I was going to mention a Shakespeare one but you beat me to it rongorongo.

So here's my other one: "bang" as a euphemism for sex. Going (at least) all the way back to a 1677 play The Rover by Aphra Behn: We'll both lie with her, and then let me alone to bang her.
posted by XMLicious at 2:58 AM on May 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: snot (do a Ctrl+F for "snot").

posted by Ziggy500 at 3:01 AM on May 17, 2012

Sorry. wrong link! this is what comes of having too many tabs open. here's the right one
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:49 AM on May 17, 2012

Best answer: In the O. Henry story "The Moment of Victory" (written sometime between 1900 and 1910) there is this bit of dialogue as a young man stands in front of a mirror combing his hair:

"Hello, Willie!' says Myra. "What are you doing to yourself in the glass?"

"I'm trying to look fly," says Willie.

"Well, you never could be fly," says Myra, with her special laugh...
posted by Longtime Listener at 5:30 AM on May 17, 2012 [16 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know what to call this construction, but the thing where there's a statement, and then the statement is followed by a scornful interjection of "Not!"--it was very popular in the 1990s (as for instance in the SNL sketch "Wayne's World"), although I remember hearing it in the 1970s.

Anyway, a few years ago, I was startled to find it in a Nero Wolfe mystery novel, I believe one of the ones from the 1930s (I don't have my notes here); it's said by the books' smart-ass narrator, Archie Goodwin. But then this year, a scholar I know found an instance of it in a silent movie intertitle, The Hater of Men from 1917 (!): "Oh, Billy, a girl’s an awful fool to get married—NOT!"

There's also a discussion here in which someone uses the OED's entry to trace the construction back to at least 1860, but there's some disagreement as to whether it's the exact same usage. But in any case, it must have been in the American vernacular before 1917, because that intertitle must have come from somewhere. Who knew?
posted by theatro at 6:03 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: What's the deal?

...there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
    -- Ecclesiastes
posted by Rash at 8:13 AM on May 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: "Newfangled" appears in Chaucer's works, circa 1390.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:52 AM on May 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: John Keats was fond of the phrase "to hang out"!

According to Aileen Ward's biography of John Keats (English poet (1795-1821), who took an interest in English slang of the day, "hanging out" connoted "stopping at a tavern," i.e. spending time drinking, which fully comports with the modern sense of the slang expression. This indicates that the phrase was current in London in 1816 at the latest!

posted by johnasdf at 10:25 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In 'The Ritual of Abduction, being the third movement of the Rite of Spring, Stravinsky unwittingly presages the early 90's Booty Beat while trying to write a bombastic and deceptive polyrhythm for the tympani.

0:07 and 0:22.

Like Sir Mix-A-Lot or Tone Loc style. At least that's how it sounds to me.
posted by TheRedArmy at 12:20 PM on May 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: My former corporate masters were overly fond of the word fungible which I would have bet a large pile of money was some damn business school type neologism.

In fact, Origin: late 17th century: from medieval Latin fungibilis, from fungi 'perform, enjoy', with the same sense as fungi vice 'serve in place of'
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:28 PM on May 17, 2012

Best answer: From Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus:
Demetrius: "Villain, what hast thou done?"
Aaron: "That which thou canst not undo."
Chiron: "Thou hast undone our mother."
Aaron: "Villain, I have done thy mother."
posted by stopgap at 2:01 PM on May 17, 2012 [39 favorites]

Response by poster: Great answers so far!

Like Sir Mix-A-Lot or Tone Loc style. At least that's how it sounds to me.

Close but acceptable! I can see how after hearing that 10+ times I'd be chuckling to myself. It'd be neat to do a musical version of this question.
posted by circular at 2:16 PM on May 17, 2012

Best answer: Sorry to chime in so late, but for a bit of meta-commentary: you've stumbled on something that's a crowd-pleaser when I give public talks about language (see my profile for a link to my speaking page), especially when talking about slang to young people (say, under 25).

They're universally astonished to find that even much of their current slang (like "legit") is older than they are. It doesn't have to be traced back to the 1800s to amaze with its ancientness. It's enough that it was born a few years before they were.

Hip-hop language, in particular, has this "new-old" quality. We're talking about a music form that's relatively new compared to other forms, a little more than 30 years old. So it's older than many of the people who listen to it, as is its language, but because the recordings themselves are new, the language also seems new.

"Fly" mentioned above is one of my favorites (though it's considered dated by youngsters today -- they'll basically only use it ironically), but one not mentioned so is "crib" (also a bit dated) which has meant something like "house" or "home" since 1600. OED: "A small habitation, cabin, hovel; a narrow room; fig. a confined space. In N.Z. now esp. a small house at the seaside or at a holiday resort."

Another one I love: the "-izz-" infix (also dated) which was popularized by Snoop Dogg -- "foshizzle ma nizzle" -- is nearly identical to a similar infix used in the language of carnies in the early 1900s.

You can do do this game all day and what starts to dawn on you is that:

• Most words are new to most people most of the time, even when the words themselves are not brand-new.

• A word's, or an expression's, history doesn't always travel with it. Even when it does, the history can be incomplete. So the inverse is sometimes true: a word is not nearly as old as we think it is. A number of the words we think of as "cowboy" or "Western" words were invented by pulp fiction writers of the early part of the last century and apparently were never used by real cowboys. There's also some evidence that the same is true of some criminal language, which is often picked up today by criminals from TV shows and films, and not necessarily from each other.

• Language doesn't change nearly as fast as we think it does; we are mesmerized by the dragonflies while the vast grassy plains change only barely.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:35 PM on May 17, 2012 [21 favorites]

Best answer: In historical fiction there is The Tiffany Problem, the name Tiffany is an acceptable middle ages European name, but you can't use it cause the average reader would read it as being anachronistic.
posted by The Whelk at 7:26 PM on May 17, 2012 [22 favorites]

Twitter goes back to 1670.
posted by Bonzai at 10:10 PM on May 17, 2012

Bonzai, "twitter" may go back to 1670, but "Twitter" doesn't. Not the same at all; it's like saying McDonald's predates the founding of the USA, because that name existed then.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:14 AM on May 18, 2012

Twitter the company took it's name from twitter the word. It's sounds modern to my ears but it's 17th century.

I wasn't trying to imply that the founding fathers sent <140 character notes to each other.
posted by Bonzai at 7:21 AM on May 18, 2012

And McDonald's the company took it's name from McDonald's the surname.

It's an example of a word being given a new meaning, rather than a surprisingly old meaning for a word we might tend to think of as new.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:01 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came across this yesterday, from Montaigne's Essays (1580): women "sometimes go to it with only one buttock," presumably meaning half-assed. Here's a review of the book where I saw this, mentioning that quote.
posted by stopgap at 6:55 AM on May 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

Vaguely related: a brief history of four letter words, noting the changes of some previously foul words into current-day innocuousness, and noting that "fuck" (sort of) goes back to a satirical poem, written in Latin, in the year 1500.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:12 PM on May 24, 2012

Miles Davis's Move also reminds me of The Ritual Abduction.
posted by spaceboy86 at 10:06 AM on May 30, 2012

I was surprised to see "drop a line" used by Thomas Jefferson. I had associated the expression with the phone but it actually makes more sense as a reference to writing.
posted by Wood at 6:48 PM on May 31, 2012

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