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Table of Contents
Preface to the Transaction Edition
1 Beginnings
	Bundles and Clusters
2 Poverty and Its Languages
	The Nature of Poverty
	Putting up with Poverty
	Robust and Often Cheerful Resistances
3 Family and Neighbourhood (I)
	‘No Place Like Home’
	Wars—and Changes in Outlook
	The Main Characters
4 Family and Neighbourhood (II)
	Weather, the Countryside, and the Time of Year
5 Family and Neighbourhood (III)
	Old Age, Ageing, and Death
6 Work, Class, Manners
7 Language and Vulgarity: The Life of the Mind
	The Rude and the Obscene
	Intelligence, Intellect, and Imagination
8 Live and Let Live
	Local Morality
	Public Morality
9 Many Beliefs
10 A Gathering: And a Glance at Today
	Together and Apart
	Aphorisms and Social Change
	The Emerging Idioms of Relativism
Document Text Contents
Page 99

82 Everyday Language and Everyday Life

regular appearances of horses, though most of the few seen in those
streets were knackered old nags drawing rag-and-bone carts. Add,
just as a sample: ‘the cat’s out of the bag now’. I used to wonder
why the cat was in the bag in the first place. Apparently some rogues
at country markets used to pass-off cats in bags as sucking pigs.
Hence also ‘a pig in a poke’. It must have been a dumb rustic who
let himself be conned in that way. More suspiciously alert was: ‘he
plays his cards too close to his chest’; an optional addition was, ‘for
comfort’. That addition meant ‘for my comfort’, and indicated an
incipient conspiracy-theorist. One of my relatives was very fond of
that phrase. To it could be added: ‘You can easily read between the
lines’ (carried over from a form of cryptography, but who was likely
to have known that?), ‘she’s shown her true colours now’, ‘there’s
more than one skeleton in her cupboards’ (drawn from a tale about a
virtuous wife, a dead husband, a rival and a duel; but not worth the
carriage, as altogether too complicated and unlikely to be told in full
here), ‘she’s swept a lot under the carpet’, ‘there’s always wheels
within wheels’, and ‘I don’t like to tell tales out of school, but…’.
It’s pleasant to think that that comes all the way from William Tyndale,
almost five centuries go. How rich that particular lode is.

In some restricted ways one might think of the more unpleasant
kind of street gossip as filling the function of vultures swooping on
garbage and consuming it in Indian cities, or that of the lowest caste
of Indian society, those consigned to finding and clearing muck. On
second thought, those analogies will not do. Gossips reveal, uncover,
but do not remove or cleanse.

Congenital gossips have a sharp eye for faults of character and
behaviour: ‘She’s right mean and nasty’, ‘don’t trust him. He’s all
out for number one’, ‘ as t’owd cock crows …’, ‘he wouldn’t even
give you the skin off his rice-pudding’. Inventive, that; and it sounds
home-grown. Presumably, the skin is assumed to be the part of rice
pudding most easily surrendered; I always thought it the best bit. In:
‘he’s so tight he wouldn’t give you the time of day’, there is a play
on double meanings, which is very unusual. Gossips, the consum-
mate tale-bearers, could also occasionally alert the neighbours to
wife- or husband-beating going on unsuspected, behind closed doors.
Some of the more persistently identified victims must have ‘felt their
ears burning’ (that occurs in Pliny and Chaucer).

In some, there had to build up a reaction to all this, a refusal to
join in; not, in principle, to gossip; and a range of phrases to identify

Page 100

Family and Neighbourhood (III) 83

the epidemic if it reached that level: ‘silence is golden’, ‘people in
glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ (that comes from at least
Chaucer), ‘empty vessels make the most sound’, ‘bad news always
travels fast’, ‘she’s not as bad as she’s painted’, ‘give a dog a bad
name’ (and so justify hanging it, seems to have been the original
implication), ‘throw enough muck and some will stick’. These and
others were useful antiseptics. For the victims themselves there was
always: ‘Sticks and stone may break my bones but hard words harm
me never’ and its variants. The final indication of exasperated turn-
ing away could be: ‘Oh Heck and Twenty’. ‘Heck’ is a variant of
‘Hell’; but why ‘Twenty’? Almost as odd, though not so difficult to
trace, is ‘umpteenth’. We used it to indicate a vague but large and
often exasperating number or sequence—’he did that umpteen
times’—and that is how it is usually defined, though an older refer-
ence describes it as a substitute for ‘eleven’, which makes curious
another entry which dates it from 1910. Another favourite is ‘Eh
up!’ meaning ‘Steady on!’ or ‘Not so fast!’ and sounds as though it
originated as a call to horses.

Gossiping women can be funny or funny-peculiar and so some-
times figure in seaside picture postcards, along with the dread-comi-
cal, huge-bottomed mothers-in-law (who sometimes combine both
roles), or for that matter a middle-aged wife herself. But they can
make relations in a street turn rancid. No wonder many of the ‘re-
spectable’, the equable, and the fair-minded dislike them intensely;
they are often ‘troublemakers’.


Gossip is the best seed-bed, or touch-paper, for full-scale quar-
rels, which can be noisy and nasty. Usually, respectable families do
not engage in such bouts. They may fall-out with some neighbours,
be very cool towards them or go so far as to try to ignore them. At
the extreme, if relations become badly soured so that it may be said
that there is ‘bad blood’ between them, they may even think of try-
ing to move house.

All-out quarrels, and their concomitant ‘rows’, come usually from
families thought to be a bit ‘vulgar’, loud-mouthed, not very good at
looking after their children or their houses (‘sluts’), sometimes with
a tendency to drunkenness or even brawling, starting among them-
selves. As late as the nineties one quarrel could be heard screeched
at full pitch on a Sunday afternoon, from the council estate over the

Page 198

180 Everyday Language and Everyday Life

Football Pools, 14, 25, 31
Forster, E. M., 1
‘French Letters’, 13, 149

Galt Toys, 114
Garden centres, 162
Goole (class), 10
Gracie Fields (and ‘The Biggest Aspid-

istra in the World’), 43
‘Gradgrinds’, 116
Granville-Barker, Harley, 34
Greene, Graham, 49
Green’s Dictionary of Slang, 15

Hardy, Thomas, 45, 87, 91
Harington, Sir John, 136
Harrison, Tony, 41, 42, 49, 103
‘Hobson’s choice’, 27
Hogarth (Gin Lane), 68
Howe, Irving, World of Our Father,

Hubbard, Elbert, 4
Huguenots, 130

Indian restaurant, 167
In Memoriams, 87
Irish ‘navvies’, 84
ITMA, 37

Jewish refugees from Hitler 130, 131
Johnson, Dr., 4, 120
Judes, 119

King, Cecil, 65
Kipling, Rudyard, 36, 45
Klondyke, 96
Koestler, Arthur, 119

Labour Party Manifesto, 177
Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 111, 115, 126
Lady Docker, 93
Lascelles (Harewood House), 102
Last of the Summer Wine, The, 28
Lawrence, D. H., 43, 46, 49, 52
Leeds Grammar School, 103
Leeds Housing, Libraries and Education

Committees, 104
Leeds University, 12, 78, 103, 105, 124,

133, 155
Lichtenberg, G. C.,129
Lili Marlene, 45
Lily of the Valley, 80

Lincoln, Abraham, 95
Lottery, National, 14, 15, 154, 157, 177

Marks and Spencer, 162, 166
Marquess of Tavistock, 64, 65
Mayhew, H., 111
McDonald’s hamburgers, 59, 64, 65
McGill, Donald, 69
Means Test, 12
Miss Otis, 112
Mitford, Nancy (Love in a Cold Cli-

mate), 21
Monarchy, 174
Montaigne, 128
Monty Python, 161
More, Hannah, 91
Music halls, 45, 112
Myers, L. H., 69

Naples, and Opera, 43
National dental service, 71, 72
National Health Service, 72, 168, 169,

National Statistics, Office for, 99
Newark, 44, 164
News of the World, The, 141

Old Age Pension, 23
Old People’s Homes, 23, 163, 164
Orwell, George, xvi, 21, 41, 43, 69, 167

Panel Doctor, 168
Partridge, Eric, 5, 111, 160
Patmore, Coventry (Angel in the House),

Personnel Officers, 97
Phulnana, 80
Pickles, Wilfred, 37
Practical Householder, 94
Priestley, J. B., 47
Princess Diana, 19, 102, 174, 175
Professors, 102
Public Relations Director, 63, 97, 125,

Public Service Broadcasting, 66

Queen’s Hotel, Leeds, 102

Ray, John, 134
Reith, Lord, 173
Roundhay, Leeds, 103, 104
Royles, The, 42

Page 199

Index 181

Sainsbury’s, 25, 63, 66, 67, 154
Schools, Public, 101, 118
Second World War,6, 23, 45, 92
Shakespeare, William, 11, 116;

Hamlet, 8, 13; Julius Caesar, 6; King
Lear, 88, 120; Macbeth, 103, 155;
The Tempest, 109; Titus Andronicus,

Shaw, G. B., 34
Social Security, 22, 163
Socrates, 117
Songs of Praise (BBC), 145
Stalybridge, 13, 36, 45, 69, 123
Stock Exchange, 14, 100

Tesco’s, 67, 167
Thatcher, Margaret, 70, 71, 170
Thomas, Dylan, 88
Trades Union Congress, 121, 170
Trial of the Pyx, 160
Trilling, Lionel, xiv, 14
Tynan, Kenneth, 115

U.S.A. servicemen, 70
University of Birmingham, 61, 117
Updike, John, 81

Valium, 133

Waitrose, 166
Washington, George, 137
Watkins, Alan, 2
Watts, Isaac, 6
Weil, Simone, 159
Wellington, Duke of, 46
West Riding, Yorks,12, 96
Whit Walks, 149
Williams, Raymond, 121
Wodehouse, P. G., 138
Wolseley car, 92
Woodbines, 29, 62
Woolworth’s, 80
Wordsworth, William, 86, 120
Workhouses, 23
Wotton, Sir Henry, 97

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