Tag Archives: Alls

Four Of The Gang

For a three-lettered word all is a big one, suggesting completeness. As I grow older, all I ask for is that I will have all my buttons on, a phrase that was popular in the 1880s to denote someone, usually elderly, who was sharp, active, alive, and not to be deceived. All-a-cock meant vanquished or overthrown, possibly a version of knocked into a cocked hat.

All my eye and Betty Martin was an expression of disbelief with the implication that the other party was a liar. St Martin was the patron saint of beggars and the opening line of the prayer associated with him went “O, mihi beate Martine”. Our phrase was a corruption of the Latin and, according to Ware’s Passing English of the Victorian Era, was used by beggars when asking for alms. Its usage broadened to become an expression of doubt.

All over grumble was obvious while all over red was dangerous. Alls, meanwhile, was slang for the waste pot at a public house. On the pewter counters of pubs were a number of holes, down which the slops and spillage of the servings went. It was popularly believed, and probably rightly so, that these alls went back into the beer and so the expression it must be alls was used to denote a pint of bad beer.

An ally was a go-between, a term almost certainly derived from the French verb aller, while an Ally sloper was a dissipated-looking old man with a red and swollen nose. Perhaps he was an animal, a jocund term given to habitues of pubs that bore zoological names such as The Bear, Bull, Lion, Dragon and the like. He may, though, just have suffered an ‘Apenny-lot day, a term used by costers to describe a bad day’s trading when everything had to be sold off.

As long as he had all his buttons on, though.