Pill as character trait, pill on the court
Posted: 09 October 2011 07:55 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I heard the word “pill” used to describe an unpleasant, ill natured, tiresome person. I thought this meaning derived from a metaphoric use “rough pill to swallow” but that seems to imply something unpleasant but necessary.

btw:in about 90’s, I heard black basketball players in a local park use “pill” to refer to the basketball. I thought it meant “pill like shape that made people feel great.” This usage, pill as basketball, is listed in the on line “urban dictionary”—I assume “urban” here is code for “black vernacular English”.  It occurs me to open a thread on that topic as well.

I never heard white players use the term “pill” for basketball. Is/was that usage unique to BVA?

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Posted: 09 October 2011 09:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Here’s the OED entry, which compares the ‘unpleasant remedy’ sense (3a) but does not specifically derive it from that sense.

pill, n.3

5. slang (orig. U.S.). A foolish or contemptible person; a bore. Cf. sense 3a.

5. slang (orig. U.S.). A foolish or contemptible person; a bore. Cf. sense 3a.
1865 ‘Spectator’ Snoblace Ball (Contents) p. v, How Pill concluded to leave bad enough alone.
1886 Galaxy 1 Oct. 272 Various sorts of contemptible young men are designated as‥‘pills’, ‘squirts’, [etc.].
1925 P. G. Wodehouse Carry on, Jeeves! iii. 61 What’s to be done?‥ That pill is coming to stay here.
1970 Women Speaking Apr. 5/1 If a man doesn’t like a girl’s looks or personality, she’s a‥pill.
1991 E. Lax Woody Allen 6 ‘God I look like such a pill’, he said after his return, laughing as he pointed to a photo of himself in a striped tie.

And the ball:

2e. slang. A ball used in a sport or game; (in pl.) a game played with balls, spec. billiards.

1896 Westm. Gaz. 28 Oct. 1/3 We can play pills then till lunch, you know.

Never heard the sense myself so I can’t speak to any patterns of usage.

[ Edited: 09 October 2011 09:19 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 09 October 2011 09:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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When I attended an English school, the word “pill” was often used as slang for “ball” - not a tennis ball or football; as far as I remember, it was applied only to a cricket ball.

Edit: we occasionally used the term with reference to testicles, usually in a scabrous context

[ Edited: 09 October 2011 09:42 AM by lionello ]
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Posted: 09 October 2011 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I assume “urban” here is code for “black vernacular English”

While it is likely derived from that sense, I don’t think the urbandictionary.com has ever targeted itself as purveyors of the black vernacular. It’s broader, encompassing all slang and eschewing the authority of lexicographers, a.k.a., “the man.”

In other places “urban” most definitely connotes African-American culture, just not here.

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Posted: 09 October 2011 03:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I am curious how “pill” came to be used as a character trait. I see that the usage goes back more than a century, but whence?

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Posted: 09 October 2011 05:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’ve added pill to the Big List.

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Posted: 09 October 2011 11:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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From “The Big List”:

I’m not sure exactly what “cochie rasis” is. It is some kind of medieval purgative.

I don’t know about “cochie”, but in the context given, “rasis” is almost certainly a reference to the 9th-10th century Persian polymath and physician Muhammad al-Zakaria al-Razi, known to Europeans as Rhazes—who by the late 13th century, when Lanfranc’s manual was written, was a world-famous medical authority. “Cochie rasis” is, as Dave says, a laxative (the formula, presumably, attributed to Rhazes). Laxatives were for many centuries one of the medical profession’s solid standbys. Different sources give various formulae for this laxative; some mention Hiera Picra ("holy bitterness") among the ingredients, and associate this with aloes: perhaps there is a connection here with “the bitter pill”?

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Posted: 10 October 2011 05:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Laxatives were for many centuries one of the medical profession’s solid standbys.

Yes, who can forget the “boluses” handed out so freely by Dr. Maturin in the Patrick O’Brian novels?

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Posted: 10 October 2011 08:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Indeed!  Dr. Maturin’s seagoing patients believed that the efficacy of these boluses was in direct proportion to the foulness of their smell , so they were always compounded with the vilest-smelling asafoetida obtainable (on the other hand, O’Brian never mentions bitterness as a useful attribute of a medicine). I don’t know what asafoetida smells like (the popular name in many languages - devil’s shit* - gives one an idea), and after reading about Dr. Maturin’s boluses, I don’t think I want to.

I didn’t realize that asafoetida was used medically (at least as a folk remedy) right up until modern times; but Wikipedia** gives an example of its being inflicted, well into the 20th century, on Booth Tarkington’s Penrod Schofield. I didn’t know, either, that it’s a valuable ingredient in Indian cooking.

* I seem to remember a “Dr. Teufelsdreck” in a story by Edgar Allan Poe - could it be in Hans Pfaal?
** How I love that Wikipedia! Used judiciously, it can (like Dr. Maturin’s boluses) yield truly astonishing results.....

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Posted: 10 October 2011 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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From Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “I Only Have Eyes for You,” Season 2:

WILLOW: Scapula. You wear it around your neck for protection. (Willow digs into her pockets—pulls out four little bags on cords and hands them out. Everybody reacts. They smell.)

CORDELIA: You expect me to wear that? It smells like grandpa breath!

WILLOW: Sorry. I didn’t have much time so I had to use sulfur. Stinky—but effective.

And “Bad Girls,” Season 3:

BUFFY: Mmm…

WILLOW: You like it?

BUFFY: Smells nice. What is it?

WILLOW: Just a little something we witches like to call a “protection spell.”

BUFFY: Good deal. Protection. (sniffs again) I’m surprised, spell stuff is usually a lot more…

WILLOW: Stinky? That’s why I added the aloe. Give me time, and I could be the first Wicca to do all my conjuring in a pine-fresh scent.

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Posted: 10 October 2011 09:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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lionello - 10 October 2011 08:20 AM

I don’t know what asafoetida smells like

It’s reasonably easy to find in the herbs and spices section in mainstream UK grocery stores, at least - don’t know about your part of the world, Lionello.

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Posted: 10 October 2011 01:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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In RE: pill, I saw a few interesting things:

Songs and other poems, Third Edition, enlarged, by Alexander Brome (page 147), 1668 (Poem under consideration was written in 1643?)

.

books?id=hJY0AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA147&img=1&zoom=3&hl=en&sig=ACfU3U1UdQ7V2guz1Q451aEPJuUIK7AFAg&ci=92,457,704,643&edge=0

YMMV.

I recall reading in the book, Grandfather’s Book of Country Things by Walter Needham and Barrows Mussey, a description of saving bile from butchered animals and rolling it into tiny, bitter pills for medicinal use.  Possibly as a purgative; I forget. 

ASSA-FOETIDA, (yes, that is how it appears on one of my recently-purchased containers.) It is best described (in my mind) to others as smelling like “heavy, fermented human sweat”.  It is sulfurous, but not as pungently so as skunk. 

Well, I have to modify that statement.  I brought the package into the office here, and I guess it is as pungent as skunk.  It pervades.  Powerful.  It must keep it in an airtight, closed container, preferably of glass.  Even so, it pervades. 

The best, in my opinion, comes in boxes from India as rectangular lozenges, maybe an inch, by two-and-a-half, by four looking like the rosin that is used on violin bows, and is wrapped in what appears to be a bay leaf.  I am told it is a betel leaf.  To use it in this form, it is necessary to chip it off much like one might chip flint.  It usually works best when used in baghar (frying spices in hot oil to release their fragrance and aroma). 

It is known phonetically as “heeng” or “hing”.  “Devil Shit,” I have been told, is a translation from Samskrt.  Onomatopoeia, indeed! 

I heartily recommend it to those of strong constitution and adventurous spirit.  Definitely not for the faint of heart!

[ Edited: 10 October 2011 01:59 PM by sobiest ]
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Posted: 10 October 2011 03:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Lexically, I don’t see anything of note in the Brome poem. He’s using pill in the established sense of a dose of medicine. “There is a pill, they call a Vote” is a one-off metaphor and doesn’t represent a wider usage.

The larger metaphor of Parliament as quack physician has some historical interest in that Brome was a noted Royalist and the 1643 date would put the poem in the midst of the first phase of the English Civil War. The political context is interesting, but it’s not that great of poem otherwise.

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