Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ruminations on "shellacking."

Language Log | Once more into the malamanteau:
[For those who are genuinely curious about the semantic journey of shellacking from bugs to beatings, take a look at David Crystal's post 'On shellacking', 11/4/2010, suggested by a comment on G.L.'s Johnson post. David observes that

The original meaning of the verb 'to varnish with shellac' (a type of resin) is known from the late 19th century. Anything that had been 'shellacked' would have a nice rosy tinge. By the 1920s, in the USA, this effect had evidently been enough to motivate a slang use of the word meaning 'drunk'. Rosey, illuminated, and plastered show similar developments - all early 20th-century slang.

At the same time, drunks were also being described using such words as busted, bombed, crashed, and thrashed. So it's not surprising to see these words sharing their associations. The connotations of thrashing transferred to shellac, which then developed its later slang sense of 'badly beaten'.

One possible problem with this theory is that it's not really clear that the 'intoxication' meaning for shellacking developed before the 'bad beating' meaning did.
Oops. Just noticed I dropped a word (to unfortunate effect) in the comment I left on the linked post offering "housed" as another word for "extremely drunk" or "beaten up." I expect the language guys are going to destroy me.
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