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Taking the King's Shilling

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Flash
163565.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 5:42 am Reply with quote

Yes, that's the right direction. The only problem I see with it is that they would have to think quite laterally to come up with the wrong answer, whereas we need them to blunder right into it if possible.

Maybe if the link was something like "If you join the army you 'take the King's shilling'. But let's say you want to stay out of the army: how would it help to have an unusual bottom?"

This gives them the double entendre but does also suggest the tankard thing quite strongly to anyone who knows the story.

 
Flash
163566.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 5:45 am Reply with quote

For the notes: the traditional design on the glass bottom of the tankard is that of a body hanging from a gallows, with the words "The Last Drop". The joke is clear enough, but I wonder if there's any more to say about its provenance?

 
Flash
163570.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 5:54 am Reply with quote

Fred, is this true? It sounds like bunk to me:

Quote:
The wooden tankard, with its capacity of up to four pints, was the commonest form of drinking vessel in the late Saxon era. Despite being shared, the contents were usually speedily dispatched, encouraging riotous drunkenness. So it was that King Edgar (who reigned from 959-975) introduced a decree stipulating that the tankards were to be fitted with pins or pegs all the way down, with each interval denoting one person’s measure. You drank the ale down to the next peg, and then handed it on. Drinking more than your share therefore entailed taking the next man down a peg or two.

http://www.icons.org.uk/theicons/collection/the-pint-of-real-ale/features/drinking-vessels-finished

 
eggshaped
163574.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 6:15 am Reply with quote

There are a whole host of "Last Drop" pubs which generally claim to be near the sites of public hangings.

I've been to the one in Edinburgh anyway.

 
Frederick The Monk
163583.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 6:40 am Reply with quote

Flash wrote:
Fred, is this true? It sounds like bunk to me:

Quote:
The wooden tankard, with its capacity of up to four pints, was the commonest form of drinking vessel in the late Saxon era. Despite being shared, the contents were usually speedily dispatched, encouraging riotous drunkenness. So it was that King Edgar (who reigned from 959-975) introduced a decree stipulating that the tankards were to be fitted with pins or pegs all the way down, with each interval denoting one person’s measure. You drank the ale down to the next peg, and then handed it on. Drinking more than your share therefore entailed taking the next man down a peg or two.

http://www.icons.org.uk/theicons/collection/the-pint-of-real-ale/features/drinking-vessels-finished


Well it's not in any of the copies of the Laws of Edgar that I've got. Is it in yours? Frankly the idea of a Saxon king trying to introduce legislation to prevent drunkeness is ludicrous - Why? How is he going to enforce it? Edgar's laws try to prohibit murder and cattle rustling but they don't go much further than that - they couldn't as there was no state structure that could support such minute intervention into daily life. Nor was drunkeness considered a problem, compared to the real problems of the day. The Victorians invented the idea that drinking was sinful - certianly not the Saxons.

Edgar did introduce a law saying that Sunday began at Saturday lunchtime however.......

 
Flash
163586.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 6:53 am Reply with quote

I thought as much. The proposed origin for "taking him down a peg or two" seemed particularly mangled and improbable.

Also, there's a practical objection to the pegs in the tankard: when you're drinking it's tilted, so you wouldn't know whether you'd got to the next peg or not.

A pox on the whole business. Let us move on.

 
Jenny
163602.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 8:28 am Reply with quote

Pegging related expressions sound more as if they have to do with cribbage to me.

 
MatC
163606.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 8:39 am Reply with quote

Bound to be cribbage, I would think (and other pub games so scored, like dominoes).

 
Gray
163617.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 8:56 am Reply with quote

Some suggest a piratical origin:
Quote:
It comes from the way people used to be ranked. Ships, for instance, used to be classified by colored pegs, which were based on the honor that the ship had gained through the years. As other ships earned their reputations, their pegs' colors were changed, sometimes knocking a ship down a notch. One of the earliest known uses of this expression is from the 1589 John Lyly story, Pappe with an Hatchet: "Now haue at you all my gaffers of the rayling religion, tis I that must take you a peg lower."

Although that seems a bit muddled too. At the very least, bringing down a sail or flag (by a peg, if that's how they're attached or fastened) would serve as a good metaphor for lowering the arrogance of someone flying too high.
http://www.mindlesscrap.com/origins/more-c.htm
From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).

 
Frederick The Monk
163628.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 9:33 am Reply with quote

Gray wrote:
Although that seems a bit muddled too. At the very least, bringing down a sail or flag (by a peg, if that's how they're attached or fastened) would serve as a good metaphor for lowering the arrogance of someone flying too high.


Interestingly a peg-mast or peggy-mast was a small mast (or more usually a yard) to which a pennon was attached. They fell out of use by the mid 16th century when ships were large enough to have lots of places you could fly a pennon from.

s: Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea

 
Frederick The Monk
163630.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 9:37 am Reply with quote

I've never heard of ships being rated by coloured pegs though and I worked with a bunch of people who built a full-sized 16th century warship last year. I'm sure they would have mentioned it. I thought ships were rated by, er, 'rate' depending on their size and number of guns they carried.

 
Gray
163649.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 10:34 am Reply with quote

Brewer's has these two separate explanations, both of which seem rather better, although it does suffer from the 'rating' problem, which needs other corroboration:

Quote:
Peg too Low. Low-spirited, moody. Our Saxon ancestors were accustomed to use peg-tankards, or tankards with a peg inserted at equal intervals, that when two or more drank from the same bowl, no one might exceed his fair proportion. We are told that St. Dunstan introduced the fashion to prevent brawling.
I am a peg too low means, I want another draught to cheer me up.

“Come, old fellow, drink down to your peg!
But do not drink any farther, I beg.”
Longfellow: Golden Legend, iv.

To take one down a peg. To take the conceit out of a braggart or pretentious person. The allusion here is not to peg-tankards, but to a ship's colours, which used to be raised and lowered by pegs; the higher the colours are raised the greater the honour, and to take them down a peg would be to award less honour.

“Trepanned your party with intrigue,
And took your grandees down a peg.”
Butler: Hudibras, ii. 2.

 
Gray
163652.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 10:39 am Reply with quote

Peg tankards:

From the V&A



Quote:
Tankards like this were marked inside with a series of pegs and would have been filled with wine or beer and passed around, each person having to drink until the next peg was showing.


And some more:
http://www.nicks.com.au/index.aspx?link_id=76.686
http://www.nicks.com.au/index.aspx?link_id=76.642

From Drinking Vessels of Bygone Days, by G. J. MONSON-FITZJOHN, B.Sc.,F.R.Hist.S.

Not a 'law' then, but a social nicety. And almost certainly nothing to do with 'taking down a peg or two' which would make no sense in this context.

 
Flash
163666.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 11:06 am Reply with quote

It looks to me as though the Dictionary of Cliches has misunderstood the meaning of the word "colours", failing to appreciate that it refers to flags.

 
Gray
163674.  Fri Apr 06, 2007 11:36 am Reply with quote

Good point. Nice etymarchaeology there.

 

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