Monday 25 May 2009

Just Deserts

After using this phrase on a comment today, I was tempted to explore further. There is a wonderful Internet site called The Phrase Finder, which does just what it says on the box, and has often given me a deal of entertainment browsing its pages. Today, I also noticed they offered 'a phrase a week', and gave some examples of recent postings under this heading.
Just deserts forgotten, my attention was captured by 'old codger'. This, they said , was 'An old man, especially one who is eccentric, curmudgeonly or grotesque'. Yes, no problem there, exactly as I pictured. Doesn't everyone know somebody who fits the bill?

But that wasn't what intrigued me. It was the origin they came up with. On Time Team back in April, they showed a contraption used by falconers in Tudor times, called a 'cadge' - a square frame which surrounded a man's body, supported by crossed shoulder straps. It was used as a perch to carry falcons to the field. Frame carrying was supposed to be a job for elderly falconers, hence 'old cadgers' to 'old codgers'.

The gentleman writing the article on The Phrase Finder site, became very indignant at this assertion, and proceeded to give arguments as to why this was dubitable.

He maintained the word 'cadger' had been in use at least 200 years prior to the 'cadge' for falcons, and was the name used for itinerant dealers of eggs, butter etc, transported by pack horse. He supplied a wonderful quote from something called The Morall Fabillis of Esope, circa 1450:-

'A Cadgear, with capill and with creils' [horse and baskets]

I think he won this round... He said by early 19th century, the meaning of cadging had changed from trading to begging, or borrowing, and could be applied to any who made a living by questionable means. As it was often those too old to find work who had fallen on hard times, the idea of a 'codger' (an unfashionable, peculiar chap) and a 'cadger' (wanting to borrow or steal from you) were probably merged into the 'Old Codger' expression we use today.

I thought Blogland would never forgive me for failing to pass on such a riveting piece of all but useless information... Especially as I'm sure there are more Old Codgers per square megabyte here than anywhere else in the known universe.

(Spellchecker has just shown me its displeasure at the word 'dubitable', but appears quite happy with both cadger and codger. Is it trying to tell me something?)


  1. I find this kind of stuff interesting. But I'm an old codger.

  2. I always thought a cadger was someone who cadged. Never in my wildest dreams would I have associated it as a frame. I should definitely read more. I enjoyed this article, Jinsky, and have made a note to peruse the site in question... avidly.

  3. I think spellchecker is a dubitable source of information. Read and weep: (copied from wikipedia)

    Eye have a spelling chequer,
    It came with my Pea Sea.
    It plane lee marks four my revue
    Miss Steaks I can knot sea.

    Eye strike the quays and type a whirred
    And weight four it two say
    Weather eye am write oar wrong
    It tells me straight a weigh.

    Eye ran this poem threw it,
    Your shore real glad two no.
    Its vary polished in its weigh.
    My chequer tolled me sew.

    A chequer is a bless thing,
    It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
    It helps me right all stiles of righting,
    And aides me when eye rime.

    Each frays come posed up on my screen
    Eye trussed too bee a joule.
    The chequer pours o'er every word
    Two cheque sum spelling rule.

  4. Interesting article. I've bookmarked The Phrase Finder. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great resource. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  6. I always find a word or two in your blog, that is begging to be looked up. So carry on writing these riveting pieces of info. I for one find them very useful.
    I think the piece that Carolina has written in the comment above is priceless. I shall keep that.
    Love Granny

  7. Thank you for setting the record straight on the origination of the word "cadger." And here all this time I thought it came from panhandlers who hide behind gas pumps in Phoenix and jump out and ask for spare change.

  8. Well, I'm afraid I simply LOVE this kind of stuff...spent hours in the "Rare Books" Stacks during graduate school studying Dr. Samuel Johnson, and his English Dictionary!!!! So, I suppose that makes me an old codger ;-) And your comments about spell check made me laugh!!!! Great post!!!!! ~Janine XO

  9. If you can say indubitable, why not dubitable?
    I must say I know a few old codgers (in fact I think I am probably one myself)!

  10. Isn't the internet a wonderful tool for learning? I just love finding out small things like that.

  11. Well, I for one am highly offended by this entire post.... :)

    With apologies to some of the self-identified above, I think codgers or cadgers or whatever are exclusively male...

  12. Jinksy, that's a whole bucket of spunk! Thanks for the back info.

  13. Interesting article Jinksy. I must say I've always thought of old codgers as male too, rhymeswithplague.


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