Bottom
Posted: 01 May 2007 05:46 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Two things strike me in reading the OED entry for bottom, n. 1b.

Firstly, the definition itself:

The sitting part of a man, the posteriors, the seat. (Colloq.) Also, the ‘seat’ of a chair.

I’ve never been an advocate for the wholesale replacement of the generic ‘man’ with other words, but in this instance I believe there’s a case for it, if only for the ambiguity. To someone unfamiliar with the language this could be taken to mean that the sitting part of a woman was called something else. I thought the editors had completely revised the earlier letters of the alphabet; if so, I’m surprised they didn’t pick up on this.

Secondly I was struck by the date of the first citation. No earlier evidence for the sense? That’s surprising.

1794-6 E. DARWIN Zoon. (1801) III. 253 So as to have his head and shoulders much lower than his bottom

.

It doesn’t push it much further back and it’s rather an implied than actual cite but there is the hilarious passage in Boswell’s Life of Johnson, published in 1791 but reporting a conversation of a decade earlier.

Talking of a very respectable authour, he told us a curious circumstance in his life, which was, that he had married a printer’s devil. REYNOLDS. ‘A printer’s devil, Sir! Why, I thought a printer’s devil was a creature with a black face and in rags.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir. But I suppose, he had her face washed, and put clean clothes on her. (Then looking very serious, and very earnest.) And she did not disgrace him; the woman had a bottom of good sense.’ The word bottom thus introduced, was so ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect steadiness, while Miss Hannah More slyly hid her face behind a lady’s back who sat on the same settee with her. His pride could not bear that any expression of his should excite ridicule, when he did not intend it; he therefore resolved to assume and exercise despotick power, glanced sternly around, and called out in a strong tone, ‘Where’s the merriment?’ Then collecting himself, and looking aweful, to make us feel how he could impose restraint, and as it were searching his mind for a still more ludicrous word, he slowly pronounced, ‘I say the WOMAN was FUNDAMENTALLY sensible;’ as if he had said, hear this now, and laugh if you dare. We all sat composed as at a funeral.

The scene is priceless!

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Posted: 01 May 2007 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I thought the editors had completely revised the earlier letters of the alphabet;

The revisions between the first and second edition were partial and patchy; the revisions for the third edition started (in 2000) with the letter M, and are now up to “prim” although new entries from throughout the alphabet have also been added in the meantime.  It’ll probably be another 6 years or so before they get to “bottom”.

[ Edited: 01 May 2007 07:18 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 01 May 2007 09:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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So when Shakespeare named his weaver Nick Bottom, nobody would have thought of buttocks? What overtones might that name have had for an Elizabethan audience, if any?

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Posted: 01 May 2007 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 01 May 2007 09:48 AM

So when Shakespeare named his weaver Nick Bottom, nobody would have thought of buttocks? What overtones might that name have had for an Elizabethan audience, if any?

That precise thought occurred to me, Syntinen, but apparently not. The name Bottom is glossed by the Arden editor thus, “from ‘bottom’, the core on which the weaver’s skein of yarn was wound.” No mention is made of any wordplay on buttocks, and the editors are usually scrupulous in pointing out such allusions.

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Posted: 01 May 2007 06:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I could be wrong but both Dutch bodem and German Boden would seem to be etymologically related. The modern usage is for floor, but the Dutch word carries with it the sense of ground and dirt. Faulkner’s men and other Southerners spoke about rich bottom land. Nick Bottom was a weaver, hence the obvious (to Shakespeare’s audience, not to me) reference to a weaver’s device. Snug was so-called because he was a joiner, and there’s nothing could be finer (except to be in Carol Ina in the morning) than a snug joint.

It’s hard to believe Nick Bottom wasn’t a play on buttocks, but there it is.

[ Edited: 01 May 2007 06:58 PM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 02 May 2007 05:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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No, you’re quite right.  Here’s the OED’s etymology:

OE. botm str. masc., representing WGer. *boþm-, whence OS. bodom, OHG. bodam, MHG., Du. bodem, mod.G. boden; the ON. botn appears to point to *boþno- as the OTeut. form; but both may have been OTeut.: cf. Gr. puthmēn, also Skr. budhná, L. fundus (for *fud-nus):—Aryan *bhudhno-.
  The phonology of the Teut. forms is not yet clearly explained; the ME. variants boþom boddom also present difficulties.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 07:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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foolscap - 01 May 2007 06:25 PM

It’s hard to believe Nick Bottom wasn’t a play on buttocks, but there it is.

Particularly since he’s turned into an ass.  (Yes, I know ass didn’t mean arse back then, but it was still close enough for a pun, no?)

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Posted: 02 May 2007 09:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Myridon - 02 May 2007 07:13 AM

foolscap - 01 May 2007 06:25 PM
It’s hard to believe Nick Bottom wasn’t a play on buttocks, but there it is.

Particularly since he’s turned into an ass.  (Yes, I know ass didn’t mean arse back then, but it was still close enough for a pun, no?)

Just so, and the fact that no such pun is made or commented on by the others is very telling. It would have proved irresistible to Shakespeare.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 10:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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As demonstrated here and here, Shakespeare was fond of making prescient puns that no one would get for a couple of hundred years.

Better to believe that than to surrender a cherished misreading, right?

[ Edited: 02 May 2007 10:40 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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