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Bah humbug
Posted: 29 December 2007 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This phrase, as a disapproval of all things to do with Christmas, I believe to originate from Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”, but I can’t find an origin for the term “humbug” as applied either as in this phrase or to the sweet.

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Posted: 29 December 2007 10:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Here’s what OED has to say on the origin.

humbug, n

[A slang or cant word which came into vogue c1750.
(An earlier date has been given in several Dictionaries, on the ground of the occurrence of the word in the title of F. Killigrew’s Universal Jester, which the Slang Dictionary dates ‘about 1735-40’. But the earliest ed. of that work is dated by Lowndes 1754; see below.)
Many guesses at the possible derivation of humbug have been made; but as with other and more recent words of similar introduction, the facts as to its origin appear to have been lost, even before the word became common enough to excite attention. Cf. the following:
1751 (Jan.) Student II. 41 There is a word very much in vogue with the people of taste and fashion, which though it has not even the ‘penumbra’ of a meaning, yet makes up the sum total of the wit, sense and judgement of the aforesaid people of taste and fashion!..I will venture to affirm that this Humbug is neither an English word, nor a derivative from any other language. It is indeed a blackguard sound, made use of by most people of distinction! It is a fine, make-weight in conversation, and some great men deceive themselves so egregiously as to think they mean something by it!]

1. A hoax; a jesting or befooling trick; an imposition. Obs.

2. A thing which is not really what it pretends to be; an imposture, a deception, fraud, sham.

3. Deception, pretence, sham; used interjectionally = ‘stuff and nonsense!’.

There are a few more senses, the sweet being number 5. 1751 first cite for 1 and 2, 1825 for sense 3 and 1825 for 5.

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Posted: 30 December 2007 12:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Any indication of how the sweet acquired its name?

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Posted: 30 December 2007 04:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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bayard - 30 December 2007 12:50 AM

Any indication of how the sweet acquired its name?

I don’t know what you mean by “the sweet” here.  Does it mean dessert?  Is there, then, a dessert named humbug?

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Posted: 30 December 2007 05:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Not dessert - confectionery. Mint humbugs are one of the best-known traditional British sweets ("candies" to leftpondians). As here:
http://www.treasureislandsweets.co.uk/acatalog/mint_humbug.html

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Posted: 30 December 2007 09:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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bayard - 30 December 2007 12:50 AM

Any indication of how the sweet acquired its name?

No clue to that in OED.

I erred in my last post when I wrote that the first cite for the sweetmeat usage is 1825. There is no cite for that date, just a square-bracketed comment [Remembered in common use in Gloucestershire]

Here are the first couple of actual cites:

1847-78 HALLIWELL, Humbug,..also applied to a kind of sweetmeat. 1863 MRS. GASKELL Sylvia’s L. xliii, He had provided himself with a paper of humbugs for the child{em}‘humbugs’ being the north-country term for certain lumps of toffy, well-flavoured with peppermint.

Sweets is the most common term in the UK for candies, although sweet is also used for dessert. Is the former usage completely unknown in the US?

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Posted: 30 December 2007 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The OED includes that sense, but doesn’t explain its origin:

5. A kind of sweetmeat.
1825 [Remembered in common use in Gloucestershire]. 1847-78 HALLIWELL, Humbug,..also applied to a kind of sweetmeat. 1863 MRS. GASKELL Sylvia’s L. xliii, He had provided himself with a paper of humbugs for the child—‘humbugs’ being the north-country term for certain lumps of toffy, well-flavoured with peppermint. 1877 in N.W. Linc. Gloss. 1936 J. L. HODSON Our Two Englands vii. 115 A middle-aged member of the [Bradford Wool] Exchange moved about offering a paper bag of sweets; cheeks became swollen with humbugs. 1959 I. & P. OPIE Lore & Lang. Schoolch. ix. 166 ‘Lollies’ is also becoming a general term, and so is ‘gob-stoppers’ for ‘any sweet difficult to chew’, as humbugs, large aniseed balls, and fruit drops.

The first two cites are very odd; the “1847-78 HALLIWELL” is bad enough, with no indication of which of his many works is meant (I would have assumed A dictionary of archaic and provincial words, obsolete phrases, proverbs and ancient customs, from the fourteenth century, but that’s from 1847—what’s the “-78” about?), but “1825 [Remembered in common use in Gloucestershire]”??  Is that Murray exercising his editorial privilege and sneaking in a childhood memory as evidence?

Edit: Pipped by aldi again!

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Posted: 30 December 2007 06:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Sweets is the most common term in the UK for candies, although sweet is also used for dessert. Is the former usage completely unknown in the US?

Sweets is a generic form for anything that is sweet as far as I know.  It doesn’t have the specificity that it seems to have on the right side of the pond.

But we would never use it in the singular.  At least I can’t imagine it.  “The sweet” in bayard’s note (second in this thread) is completely foreign to me.  But then, we also don’t know the plural, “maths.”

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Posted: 31 December 2007 07:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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But we would never use it in the singular.  At least I can’t imagine it.

The singular is indeed used here in Leftpondia, common enough to be unremarkable when I hear it. “Would you like a sweet?” is an oft-heard formulation.

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Posted: 31 December 2007 08:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Could be.  But I would respond with “a sweet what?”

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Posted: 31 December 2007 12:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Yeah, it’s not something I hear either.

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Posted: 31 December 2007 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Hunh...I’m with Dave. I wouldn’t blink an eye if someone offered me a sweet.

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Posted: 31 December 2007 07:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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happydog - 31 December 2007 05:38 PM

I’m with Dave. I wouldn’t blink an eye if someone offered me a sweet.

Be careful, Happydog - there’s a traditional Rightpondian warning to children, “Never accept sweets from a stranger ...”

The OED entry on “sweet” is, I think, rather misleading in not pointing out that the John Betjeman quote, “is trifle sufficient for sweet?”, it gives as part of the definition for “sweet = dessert” comes from a poem, How to Get On in Society. mocking alleged lower-class usages such as “sweet” for “dessert”, “serviette” for “napkin” and so on.

The OED does, though, mention the extremely obscure meaning of “sweets”, “British wines”, that is, wines made in Britain from grapes imported from abroad, which paid only half the tax paid by imported wines. The term crops up in licensing legislation: the 1904 Licensed Victuallers’ Official Annual, for example, defines “intoxicating liquors” as “spirits, wine, beer, porter, cider, perry and sweets, and any fermented, distilled or spirituous liquor which cannot ... be sold without a licence from the Commissioners for Inland Revenue”.

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Posted: 03 January 2008 05:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Oecolampadius - 31 December 2007 08:15 AM

Could be.  But I would respond with “a sweet what?”

I’ve actually had that exact response!

IMHE (learning the Queen’s English, then moving to Texas, then Michigan), most Americans are about as familiar with using sweets for candy as they are with using rubber for eraser.

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Posted: 03 January 2008 08:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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most Americans are about as familiar with using sweets for candy as they are with using rubber for eraser.

And why should we?  In either case.

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Posted: 03 January 2008 09:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Oecolampadius - 03 January 2008 08:16 PM

most Americans are about as familiar with using sweets for candy as they are with using rubber for eraser.

And why should we?  In either case.

I don’t know?
It was just an observation based on my personal experience, not a judgement.  In my personal experience, Americans are either familiar with most of the differences in British word usage or they aren’t.  And, it seems to me, to simply be based on exposure.
For example, a Monty Python fan most likely knows that, to a Brit, sweets means candy, a rubber doesn’t mean a condom, and introducing yourself as Randy will be met with a snicker.  Someone who’s never heard of MP, not so much.
Sorry if I implied otherwise.

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