From "Notes and Queries."
LONDON STREET CRY.-What is the meaning of
the old London cry,
Buy a fine mousetrap, or a tor-
mentor for your fleas
? Mention of it is found in
one of the Roxburghe ballads dated 1662, and,
amongst others, in a work dated about fifty years
earlier. The cry torments me, and only its elucidation
will bring ease.
ANDREW W. TUER.
The Leadenhall Press, E.C.
LONDON STREET CRY (6th S. viii. 348).-Was not
this really a
? The mouse-
trap man would probably also sell little bunches of
butcher's broom (
, the mouse-thorn of the
Germans), a very effective and destructive weapon in
the hands of an active butchers boy, when employed
to guard his master's meat from the attacks of flies.
LONDON STREET CRY (6th S. viii. 348, 393).-The
following quotations from Taylor, the Water Poet,
may be of interest to Mr. TUER:-
I could name more, if so my Muse did please,
Of Mowse Traps, and tormentors to kill Fleas.
The Travels of Twelve-pence.
Yet shall my begg'ry no strange Suites devise,
As monopolies to catch Fleas and Flyes.
Faringdon. WALTER HAINES.
I notice a query from you in
N. and Q.
a London Street Cry which troubles you. Many of
the curious adjuncts to Street Cries proper have, I
apprehend, originally no meaning beyond drawing
attention to the Crier by their whimsicality. I will
give you an instance. Soon after the union between
England and Ireland, a man with a sack on his back
went regularly about the larger streets of Dublin.
His cry was:
Bits of Brass,
Bad luck to you Castlereagh.
Party feeling against Lord Castlereagh ran very
high at the time, I believe, and the political adjunct.
to his cry probably brought the man more shillings
than he got by his regular calling.
P.S.-I find I have unconsciously made a low pun.
The cry alluded to above would probably be understood and appreciated in the streets of Dublin at the
present with reference to the Repeal of the Union.
LONDON STREET CRY.
88, FRIARGATE, DERBY.
concerning which you inquire
Notes and Queries
of this date, was also known as
and specimens are occasionally to
be seen in the country. I recollect seeing one, of
superior make, many years ago. An ivory hand, the
fingers like those of
Jasper Packlemerton of atrocious
curled as in the act of
a finely carved wrist-band of lace was the appropriate
ornament, and the whole was attached to a slender
ivory rod of say eighteen inches in length. The finger
nails were sharpened, and the instrument was thus
available for discomfiting
engaged upon the most inaccessible portions of the
human superficies. I have also seen a less costly
article of the same sort carved out of pear-wood (or
some similar material). It is probable that museums
might furnish examples of the
tormentor for your fleas.
Very truly yours,
JUNIOR ATHENAUM CLUB,
On turning over the leaves of
Notes and Queries
I happened on your enquiry
Tormentor for your
May I ask, have you succeeded in getting at
the meaning or origin of this curious street cry? I
have tried to trace it, but in vain. It occurs to me
as just possible that the following circumstance may
bear on it:-
The Japanese are annoyed a good deal with fleas.
They make little cages of bamboo-such I suppose
as a small bird cage or mouse-trap-containing plenty
of bars and perches inside. These bars they smear
over with bird-lime, and then take the cage to bed
with them. Is it not, as I say, just possible, that one
of our ancient mariners brought the idea home with
him and started it in London? If so, a maker of
bird cages or mouse-traps is likely to have put the idea
into execution, and cried his mouse-traps and
in one breath.
"Notes and Queries,"
April 18th, 1885.
LONDON CRIES.-A cheap and extended edition of
London Street Cries
being on the eve of publication, I shall be glad of early information as to the
A dip and a wallop for a bawbee
See p. 29.
Water for the buggs.
I recollect many years ago
reading an explanation of the former, but am doubtful as to its correctness.
ANDREW W. TUER.
The Leadenhall Press, E.C.
One who was an Edinburgh student towards the end
of last century told me that a man carrying a leg of
mutton by the shank would traverse the streets crying
Twa dips and a wallop for a bawbee.
the gude-wives to their doors with pails of boiling
water, which was in this manner converted into
NORMAN CHEVERS, M.D.
32, Tavistock Road, W.
25, ARGYLL ROAD, KENSINGTON, W.,
DEAR MR. TUER,-
The Cockney sound of long a which is confused
, is very different from it, and where it
approaches that sound, the long
is very broad, so
that there is no possibility of confusing them in a
Cockney's ear. But is the sound Cockney ? Granted
it is very prevalent in E. and N. London, yet it is
rarely found in W. and S.W. My belief is that it is
especially an Essex variety. There is no doubt about
its prevalence in Essex, so that [very roughly indeed]
Then as regards
. These are never pronounced alike.
certainly often imitates received
, though it
has more distinctly an
commencement; but when
that is the case,
has a totally different sound, which
dialect-writers usually mark as
, having a broad a
. Finer speakers-
shopmen and clerks-will use a finer a. The sound
, does not sound to me at all like
. There are great varieties of this " natural vowel,"
as some people call it, and our received
finer than the general southern provincial and northern
Scotch sounds, between which lie the mid and north
England sounds rhyming to
nearly, and various
transitional forms. Certainly the sounds of
are quite different, and are never confused by speakers;
yet you would write both as
The pronunciation of the Metropolitan area is extremely mixed; no one form prevails. We may put
aside educated or received English as entirely artificial. The N., N.E., and E. districts all partake of
an East Anglian character; but whether that is recent,
or belongs to the Middle Anglian character of Middlesex, is difficult to say. I was born in the N.
district, within the sound of Bow Bells (the Cockney
limits), over seventy years ago, and I do not recall the
in my boyish days, nor do I
recollect having seen it used by the older humourists.
Nor do I find it in
Errors of Pronunciation and Improper Expressions, Used Frequently and Chiefly by the
Inhabitants of London,
1817, which likewise does not
note any pronunciation of
. Hence I am
inclined to believe that both are modernisms, due to
the growing of London into the adjacent provinces.
They do not seem to me yet prevalent in the W.
districts, though the N.W. is transitional. South of
the Thames, in the S.W. districts, I think they are
practically unknown. In the S.E. districts, which dip
into N. Kent, the finer form of
The uneducated of course form a mode of speech
among themselves. But I am sorry to find even
school teachers much infected with the
, in N. districts.
Of course your Cockney orthography goes upon very
broad lines, and you are quite justified in raising a
laugh by apparent confusions, where no confusions are
made by the speakers themselves, as Hans Breitmann
did with the German. The confusion is only in our
ears. They speak a language we do not use. To
write the varieties of sounds, especially ot diphthongs,
with anything like correctness, requires a phonetic
alphabet which cannot even be read, much less written,
without great study, such as you cannot look for in
readers who want only to be amused. But another
question arises, Should we lay down a pronunciation ?
There never has been any authority capable of doing
so. Orthoepists may protest, but the fashion of pronunciation will again change, as it has changed so
often and so markedly during the last six hundred
years; see the proofs in my
Early English Pronunciation
. Why should we not pronounce
as we do
as we do
? Why should we not call
as we now call
, pronouncing that as
? Is not
a change from
, etc. ? Is not our
a change from our sound of
, etc. ? Again, our
replaces an old
There is nothing but fashion which rules this. But
when sounds are changed in one set of vowels, a compensating change takes places in another set, and so
no confusion results. In one part of Cheshire I met
with four sounds of
, never confused by natives,
although a received speaker hears only one, and all
arose from different sources. Why is one pronunciation
(or aw-ud), and another not? Simply
because they mark social grades. Of course I prefer
my own pronunciation, it's been my companion for so
many years. But others, just as much of course,
prefer theirs. When I brought out the
in phonetic spelling, many years ago, a newsvendor
? We always say
Very truly yours,
ALEXANDER J. ELLIS.