"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Monday, 9 March 2009

Gone for a Burton

In informal British English, something or someone who has gone for a Burton is missing, permanently broken, ruined or destroyed.

The original sense was to meet one’s death, a slang term in the RAF in World War Two for pilots who were killed in action. Its first recorded appearance in print was in the New Statesman on 30 August 1941.

It's exact origin is obscure and many different versions have been put forward. The most favoured is that it was a way of avoiding referring to someone having been killed by suggesting they had only slipped out for a Beer. Burton's being one of the biggest Breweries at that time and Burton-on-Trent being the home of a number of other breweries. In addition, someone who downed their plane in the water was 'in the drink'. (There is also a hint of rhyming slang in there - Burton-on-Trent - went.)

Allegedly there was a series of advertisements for beer in the inter-war years which featured a group of people with one obviously missing, such as a football team of ten players. The tagline suggested the missing person had just popped out for a beer. The slogan was then taken up by RAF pilots for one of their number missing in action as a typical example of wartime sick humour. Whether these adverts ever existed is questionable.

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