"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."
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Grow'd like Topsy
Occasionally one hears the expression that something 'grow'd like Topsy'. I thought readers might be interested to know its origins.
In "Uncle Tom's cabin, or Life among the lowly", published in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe describes the character Topsy - a wild and uncivilized slave girl who Miss Ophelia tries to reform. In Chapter 20 the novel recounts a conversation between Ophelia and Topsy:
"Tell me where were you born, and who your father and mother were." "Never was born," re-iterated the creature more empahatically. "Never had no father, nor mother nor nothin'" "...Have you ever heard anything about God, Topsy?" The child looked bewildered, but grinned as usual. "Do you know who made you?" "Nobody, as I knows on," said the child, with a short laugh. The idea appeared to amuse her considerably; for her eyes twinkled, and she added, "I spect I grow'd. Don't think nobody never made me."
At the time of its publication 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' outsold every book previously published in the U.S. except the Bible and readers were charmed by Topsy's declaration that she just "grow'd." Soon "it growe'd like Topsy" had become a popular figure of speech to describe something that grew or increased by itself, without apparent design or divine intervention.
According to the Word Detective, today, "grow like Topsy" is most often heard in criticism of bureaucratic institutions or government budgets, for whose bloated sprawl and inefficiency no one is eager to take credit.
My daughter Helen commented in November 2008 in her Blog that she was now keeping a notebook of new words that she came across during her reading. "This week I bought a lovely little leather bound book to write new words in as I read them . I've added a few from "1984", but my favourite has to be persiflage (from the French persifler) which means banter." I later discovered that my older daughter, Bryony, also kept a similar notebook.
This inspired me to create a Word blog. This will include both new words, favourite words and the origins of phrases that we commonly use. A definition and some comment, perhaps even a relevant quotation, will acompany the word or phrase.
“I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me.” - Winnie the Pooh
I'm a blogger - nowadays that seems to be my main occupation and Rambles from My Chair is my main blog. I’m a retired local government executive - now studying how to survive a neurological disorder that gives me various problems but, hopefully, a whole new outlook on life and an increased sense of humour and perspective. I enjoy all manner of communication apart from the telephone and am constantly e-mailing, texting, writing postcards and letters and commenting on other people's blogs.
Scriptor Senex is Latin for Old Writer and my real name is John but I've almost forgotten that nowadays...
“He’s not so old. He’s just the age that he is, that’s all.” (Gerald Hammond)