Nutmeg in football
Posted: 12 July 2018 02:17 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Wikipedia list three possible origins for the term describing kicking the ball between an opponents legs.  One is from the use of nuts to refer to testicles.  Another is from Cockney rhyming slang nutmegs for legs, The third is from an old scam involving substituting wooden balls in a shipment of valuable nutmegs.  The word for this ploy came to mean pulling something over on someone.  Any comments?

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Posted: 12 July 2018 04:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The OED3 (2004) has the football slang noun from 1968 and the verb from 1975. It doesn’t give an etymology for this particular sense.

Nutmegs, in addition to the plain nuts, is also slang for testicles going back to the 1680s, according to Green’s. The OED marks it as obsolete, with a last citation from 1846. Green’s, however, includes two later citations, one from the journal Maledicta in 1980, which may be a reference to the older usage. The second is this:

1999 [UK] Roger’s Profanisaurus 3 in Viz 98 Oct. 21: nutmegs n. Balls that hang between a footballer’s legs.

This last citation clearly associates the two senses. But if the slang sense of testicles was really obsolete, that would make that origin less likely. It still could have been recoined/revived in the twentieth century by footballers, though, especially given the existence of nuts for testicles.

I’m skeptical of the Cockney rhyming slang explanation. Rhyming slang is often used inventively to create an explanation, and it seems unlikely that nutmegs = legs would have caught on with an already existing slang sense meaning testicles. And I know of no evidence to suggest that nutmeg ever meant to pull something over on someone. So that third one seems to have been invented out of whole cloth. I don’t doubt that nutmegs, which were once quite rare and valuable, were the subject of all sorts of con games, but I don’t see any reason to think such scams spawned a slang term.

[ Edited: 12 July 2018 03:49 PM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 12 July 2018 06:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’m skeptical of the Cockney rhyming slang explanation. Rhyming slang is often used inventively to create an explanation, and it seems unlikely that nutmegs = legs would have caught on with an already existing slang sense meaning testicles.

Also, nutmegs doesn’t really rhyme with legs, because the stress is very strongly on the first syllable.

And I know of no evidence to suggest that nutmeg ever meant to pull something over on someone. So that third one seems to have been invented out of whole cloth. I don’t doubt that nutmegs, which were once quite rare and valuable, were the subject of all sorts of con games, but I don’t see any reason to think such scams spawned a slang term.

There is the 19th-century American phrase wooden nutmeg.

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Posted: 16 July 2018 03:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Dave Wilton - 12 July 2018 04:03 AM

I know of no evidence to suggest that nutmeg ever meant to pull something over on someone. So that third one seems to have been invented out of whole cloth. I don’t doubt that nutmegs, which were once quite rare and valuable, were the subject of all sorts of con games, but I don’t see any reason to think such scams spawned a slang term.

The claim is made here, which claims that the evidence is in the OED. It isn’t. I find it hard to believe that the writer would simply invent the reference as opposed to being genuinely muddled, but I can’t find it anywhere else either. There are obscure references to Connecticut and scams involving carved wooden nutmegs, all very urban mythy.

[DW: edited link to prevent horizontal scrolling]

[ Edited: 17 July 2018 06:31 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 16 July 2018 10:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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But even if the wooden nutmeg is an urban myth, that myth has been around since the 1830s; and anything that has been confidently believed by many for so long could give rise to a metaphor.

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Posted: 17 July 2018 06:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I did not know about the wooden nutmegs. They were definitely a thing. Green’s Dictionary of Slang has an entry for the term. I don’t know about the OED. (I can’t access it at the moment.)

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Posted: 17 July 2018 07:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The OED knows the footballing sense, but offers no suggestion for the reason for it. It has an entry for Nutmeg State:

This is the entry for wooden nutmeg:

wooden nutmeg n.  [compare Nutmeg State n. at nutmeg n. and adj. Compounds 2a] U.S. a false or fraudulent thing; a fraud, cheat, or deception; also in more indirect allusions, as representing the type of something useless or worthless.
The story to which the phrase alludes is related by Haliburton (‘Sam Slick’) in the Clockmaker (1836) Ser. i. viii.
1822 N. Amer. Rev. Oct. 344 The Boston folks are sharp indeed..he expected every moment to see the dogs pull out a bag of wooden nutmegs.
1830 J. Galt Lawrie Todd I. ii. i. 90 ‘I reckon, Squire Lawrie,’ said he [sc. a Vermont farmer], ‘is a puffing of a parley voo, but I sells no wooden nutmegs.’
1836 T. C. Haliburton Clockmaker 1st Ser. viii. 26 That etarnal scoundrel, that Captain John Allspice of Nahant, he..carried a cargo once..of fifty barrels of nutmegs: well, he put half a bushel of good ones into each eend of the barrel, and the rest he filled up with wooden ones… Says he [sc. General Cuffy], there’s one manufacture that might stump all Europe to produce the like. What’s that? says I… Why, says he, the facture of wooden nutmegs; that’s a cap sheef that bangs the bush—its a real Yankee patent invention.
1849 H. D. Thoreau Week Concord & Merrimack Rivers 101 There are new and patented inventions in this shape, purporting to be for the elevation of the race, which many a pure scholar and genius..is..deceived by, and finds himself reading a horse-rake, or spinning jenny, or wooden nutmeg, or oak-leaf cigar,..perchance, when he was seeking serene and biblical truths.
1871 M. S. De Vere Americanisms 620 In the press and Congress wooden nutmegs have to answer for forged telegrams, political tricks, and falsified election-returns.
1890 Scots Observer 18 Jan.  What should he do with a thesis? What he really wants is a wooden nutmeg or a razor-strop.
1898 Argosy Sept. 287 I’ll bet you a last year’s almanac against a wooden nutmeg that I can go as straight to the bottom as you can.
1900 E. Gregory Ways of Men iv. 32 Our grandfathers contributed the wooden nutmeg to civilization, and endowed a grateful universe with other money-saving devices.
1918 Mississippi Valley Hist. Rev. 5 155 One writer states that all the ‘tin-wagon, pit-coal-indigo, wooden-nutmeg, and wooden-clock’ peddlers of Connecticut..had suddenly turned into book agents.
1982 Christian Sci. Monitor 18 Mar. 22 Hong Kong robots..will produce our goods, which we will merely advertise and distribute–a nation of Yankee pedlars marketing wooden nutmegs made in Taiwan.
2001 Edmonton Sun 14 Apr. 11 Together, the federal Liberals and Canadian Alliance MPs have been asking us this week to accept a wooden nutmeg the size of a bungalow.

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