"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."

Thursday, 1 March 2012


I've been on strike - or that's what it seems like. I haven't blogged words or phrases on this blog on a regular basios for many months. Hopefully I'm back.

If others are still on strike that makes me a blackleg - a strike-breaker.

The term is said to have come from strikes in the coal mines. Those who were on strike had washed and brushed up after their last trip down the mine and therefore anyone covered in coal dust was a strike-breaker - a blackleg. The derogatory term scab is also used for such people. It is not a direct synonym of strike-breaker since a blackleg is specifically aomeone who works at a job while his colleagues are on strike. A strike-breaker may also be someone who crosses a picket line to do another job. A scab is either a blackleg or a person specially brought in or hired to do the job which is not their normal one.

Pinkertons protecting blacklegs from their fellow workers.

An alternative origin can be dated back as far as the sixteenth century or earlier. The rook is known for its rapacious appetite and it has black legs. Rook was used as a term of abuse for anyone who swindled, took advantage of others or lived on his wits. Gradually cheats and swindlers became known not only as rooks but blacklegs. Since strike-breakers are thought of as cheating their fellow workers they became known as blacklegs and that is the meaning that has stuck.

How far back the term blackleg goes is unclear but 'Blackleg Miner' is a 19th-century English folk song.

No comments:

Post a Comment