What Planet is This?

01 Oct 2005

Toot and Hustle

The etymology of the word hackney has, according to the OED, "engaged the most eminent etymologists" without much conclusive result. There are two main uses of the word: the first is the old village of Hackney, now a borough of London, which was called Hacan Ieg in Old English, meaning either Haca's Island or Hook Island. The confusion is over its relationship to the French word haquenée, ambling nag, and the subsequent relationship to the second use, that of London's Hackney Carriages. Consensus is converging on the place engendering the French word, which then got used as the name for the carriages' horses.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the Irish playwright and statesman, said in his A Trip to Scarborough of 1777 that "the streets, some time ago, were paved with stones which, aided by a hackney-coach, half broke your bones". At the same time, between 1750 and 1786, the traveller and philanthropist Jonas Hanway was resident in London, where he carried an umbrella in rainy weather. He was the first person to habitually do so in the capital, and for his groundbreaking actions he came under great derision from the hackney-coachmen. The coachmen figured that if umbrellas became popular, nobody would take a cab, so they'd toot and hustle Hanway, driving right up to him to splash him with guttersludge.

It's ironic that a progenitor of what is now an English institution should have besmeared another such institution, but Jonas Hanway stated that tea is injurious to the British nation. He was denounced for these startling remarks by no less than Dr. Johnson and Thomas de Quincey. In any case, Hanway and later pioneers such as John Macdonald eventually won the Great Umbrella War. Thanks to Hanway, indeed, umbrellas were at first often referred to as hanways. Eventually they also became known as brollies, gamps, and dozens of variations on the 19th century American word bumbershoot. In England, the probability of there being rain has fancifully been called the brollability. The equivalent German word, regenwahrscheinlichkeit, is sadly not as catchy.

The first dedicated gamp shop was James Smith and Sons, of Foubert Street, London, which opened in 1830. It still exists, though in 1857 it was relocated to 53 New Oxford Street which is now a Grade II listed building. The umbrellas that they sell are generally steel-ribbed, but this was a late innovation by Samuel Fox in 1852. This exposes the fact that umbrellas are descended from parasols, from which they only differ in the medium that they keep from one's head. One of the first people to describe parasols was Aristophanes, in his 411 BC play Thesmophoriazousae—one of those sesquepedalianly named Greek works like the Batrachomyomachia. "Hêmin men gar sôn eti kai nun tantion, ho kanôn, oi kalathiokoi, to skiadeion (we safekeep still our looms, our spindles, our baskets, and our parasols)", says the Leader of the Chorus, in her defence of women.

The umbrelliferous ingenuity displayed by the fairer sex persisted through to the first half of the 18th century: fifty years before Jonas Hanway's pioneering efforts, there are infrequent accounts of umbrellas being used by women. That their use was strictly for the ladies can be seen in this excerpt from the Female Tatler of 12th December 1709, Issue 68, as requoted in William Sangster's wonderful 1871 Umbrellas and Their History: "The young gentleman borrowing the Umbrella belonging to Wills' Coffee-house, in Cornhill, of the mistress, is hereby advertised, that to be dry from head to foot on the like occasion, he shall be welcome to the maid's pattens." In other words, if you're fit for an umbrella, you're fit to be a woman.

The Female Tatler was one of the first ladies' periodicals, and though it only ran between 1709 and 1710, it was often absolutely hilarious. Take the following advertisement from Issue 67 of 7th December 1709: "Lost in last July, behind the late Sir George Whitmore's, a maidenhead, the owner never having missed it till the person who since married her expected to have had it as part of her dowry. If the pastry cook in Fleet Street, who is supposed to have brought it away out of a frolic, will restore it again to Mrs. Sarah Stroakings, at the Cow-House at Islington, he shall be treated with a syllabub."

Cite: Palmer, S.B. (2005). "Toot and Hustle", in: What Planet is This?
Archival URI: http://inamidst.com/notes/tootandhustle


Your email address:
(Feedback is moderated. Relevant feedback will be displayed below. The email addresses of senders are not revealed.)


Periodical essays on linguistics, history, and much more, from Shakespeare to post Romano-​British findings. Like Notes and Queries sans the queries and solely antiquarian disposition.

Subscribe Online


There is a list of essays. For queries, email the author.


Powered by Azimuth

XHTML 1.0 inamidst.com