Thirty-Eight Of The Gang

According to James Ware in his Passing English of a Victorian Era, there were compensations to be had from a spell of wet weather. Pavement were rudimentary and soon turned into a sea of mud, heralding the arrival of Shulleg Day. To prevent their long dresses from dragging in the mud, women would hitch them up, revealing a glimpse of ankle and lower leg to onlookers. Shulleg is a mangling of show-leg.

We know what a sit-down supper is, but what is fascinating was why it was necessary to emphasis that a meal would be taken sitting at a table. Apparently, in the late 1850s the medical press began to agitate against the practice of ostentatious and expensive banquets. The result was a more economical approach to feeding an assembled crowd, by inventing the stand-up meal, which by necessity was a thinner meal than a banquet. Old-fashioned people, Ware wryly observes, adopted this term to emphasis the difference.

Looking for an inventive way to describe an impossibility? Try six buses through Temple Bar, a phrase attributed to the MP, General George Thompson, who represented Tower Hamlets from 1847 and was a prominent abolitionist. John Bright, speaking in Leeds on October 18, 1883, gave some colour to the phrase when speaking against the proposed Suffrage Bill. He said that those proposing it “will be committing that great mistake which our old friend General Thompson used to describe as being made by the man who insisted on driving six omnibuses abreast through Temple Bar”. They just would not fit!

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