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.