The Universe of Discourse

Mon, 08 Feb 2021

Down in the dumps

I was reading The Life and Prankes of Long Meg of Westminster (1655), which opens with the story of how Long Meg first came to London with a posse of three or four girlfriends. After long travel they came within sight of London, “which joyed their hearts greatly.” But as they got closer, Meg's friends became less cheerful, and she said to them:

What Lasses in a dumpe, and we so nigh London?

If someone had asked me to guess when “in a dump” or “in the dumps” had been coined, I think I would have guessed sometime in the early 20th century. Nope! The Big Dictionary has cites back to 1535, which is when Long Meg takes place. It also cites a 1785 dictionary for “down in the dumps” specifically. The phrase is not connected with the dump where you dump a load of trash, which is of much later coinage.

It transpires that the lasses are in a dumpe because they realize that time has come to pay the carrier who has helped transport them to London, and believe he is likely to try to cheat them and take everything they have. Meg says she will reason sweetly with the carrier, and if that doesn't work, she will beat the crap out of him.

The carrier does try to take everything they have, but becomes much more helpful after Meg has beaten him with a cudgel.

Here it is if you would like to read it yourself.

[Other articles in category /lang] permanent link