Best bib and tucker
This is a phrase very much in use today indicating that someone is in their best clothing with perhaps the suggestion that they are not normally so finely attired. Your best bib and tucker would often equate to your Sunday best, referencing the custom, particularly amongst church goers, to reserve your best clothing for Sunday usage.
The word bib, which owes its etymology to the Old English verb of bibben meaning to drink, dates back to at least 1580. Bibs were parts of a garment that covered the chest area rather than, as they are now, a separate item used specifically to soak up or catch spillages (both liquid and solid) when the wearer is eating or drinking. Today bibs are worn by young infants or their mirror images, the very elderly. In the late 17th to 19th centuries, however, they were pieces of women’s attire.
Similarly, tuckers which were lace pieces fitted over the bodice. Sometimes they were known as pinners or modesty pieces. They were described and defined in 1688 by Randle Holme in his The Academy of Armory thus, “A Pinner or Tucker, is a narrow piece of Cloth – which compasseth the top of a Womans Gown about the Neck part”. It is probable that a tucker was originally tucked in whereas the pinner – perhaps the forerunner for the pinafore – was pinned in place.
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847) contains a reference to girls wearing tuckers (“Some of the girls have two clean tuckers in the week; the rules limit them to one.”), a habit that seems to have persisted into the middle of the 19th century at least. The phrase as we know it seems to have been of 18th century origin, first found in New Memoirs establishing a True Knowledge of Mankind by the Marquis d’Argens, published in 1747, where we find, “The Country-woman minds nothing on Sundays so much as her best Bib and Tucker,” concatenating in one fell swoop the idea of finery and Sunday best.
Middle for diddle
Frimley Green, our neighbouring village, has just had its moment in the sun, hosting the televised World Darts Championship. The phrase “middle for diddle” is a traditional shout which precedes the opening of a game of darts. Whoever throws their dart nearest to the bull’s eye situated in the middle of the board starts the game.
The main point of interest in the phrase is the term, diddle. The verb has a number of meanings including to cheat or swindle someone, to fritter your time away or (of a man) to have sexual intercourse. Sir Walter Scott’s Journal of 1826 includes the rather exasperated comment, “A day diddled away, and nothing to show for it!” We’ve all had those!
It may be, although by no means certain, that the diddle here owes its origins to frittering time away – darts, after all, being a pastime rather than anything productive. Equally, it may just be in the phrase because it rhymes with middle. Either way it seems to be an early to mid 20th century formulation, the earliest reference to which appears in print in 1946 in John Moore’s account of life in a Worcestershire village (the original Ambridge?), “here was a game of darts going on, and I listened with a joyful sense of homecoming to the old absurd backchat: “Middle for diddle”
So now we know!