Cantering Through Cant (10)

Sleeping with someone who is not your partner may not necessarily be down to loose morals but rather to a shortage of beds. Francis Grose in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) describes a custom called bundling which he defines as “a man and woman sleeping in the same bed, he with his small clothes, and she with her petticoats on; an expedient practiced in America on a scarcity of beds, where, on such an occasion, husbands and parents frequently permitted travellers to bundle with their wives and daughters”.  

One of the drawbacks of celebrating a birthday when I was a boy was that so-called friends would seize you by the arms and legs and throw you up and down for as many times as the years you were celebrating. We called this getting or giving the bumps. Grose gives a possible etymology for the custom of bumping which, no doubt due to ‘Elf and Safety considerations, is no longer performed in the nation’s school grounds. Grosse described it as “a ceremony performed on boys perambulating the bounds of the parish on Whit-Monday; when they have their posteriors bumped against the stones marking the boundaries, in order to fix them in their memory”.  

We may be the poorer for the loss of these customs.

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