Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Blog Feature: That Old Chesnut

Guys, do you know what I love? The old saying that calls old sayings "that old chestnut." It is pretty much the best thing ever. You know what else I love? Etymology. Could you possible guess a third love of mine? That would be the fact that my name is Chesnut (don't fuck with me autocorrect/every person ever who has tried to copy my name from one form to another and just seems to think I've misspelled my own name). I've told people that one day I'll have another blog called That Old Chesnut, but let's be honest, it's nowhere near as flashy as Blonder and Thinner. So anyway, I'm going to just use it for a new blog feature. Guys, name pun nerd party time has arrived! Where does that old saying/word/syntactical structure/strange spelling or whatever come from? That Old Chesnut will find out for you! Or perhaps I will just look through my giant book of Americanisms and pick out old-timey slang that amuses me and post it here. Get excited!

This is good information to have.
For this feature's inaugural appearance, I will of course be exploring the origins of the phrase "that old chestnut." According to Ye Olde Oxford English Dictionary, this usage of chestnut is considered slang and is defined thusly:
A story that has been told before, a 'venerable' joke. Hence, in extended use, anything trite, stale, or too often repeated.
The origin is hazy, though in the 1880s, American newspapers made up plenty of folk etymologies. The OED does cite an anecdote from the 1888 volume Reminiscences of J.L. Toole; related by himself, and chronicled by Joseph Hatton, which apparently you can just read online. Apparently Toole was a famous English actor/theater person with many, many memories that needed to be written down. I have no idea what the context of the following story is since the OED doesn't give page numbers, but will copy and paste that shit nonetheless:
'When suddenly from the thick boughs of a cork-tree—’‘A chestnut, Captain; a chestnut.’ ‘Bah! booby, I say a cork-tree!’ ‘A chestnut,’ reiterates Pablo: ‘I should know as well as you, having heard you tell the tale these twenty-seven times’.
So quit telling the goddamn chestnut story, Captain. And quit trotting out the same old arguments, and don't you dare tell the Shania sandwich story one more time. Not THAT old chestnut!

No comments:

Post a Comment