Tag Archives: Don Quixote

What Is The Origin Of (249)?…

Nosey parker

A nosey parker is someone who cannot resist the opportunity to stick their nose into other people’s business, someone who is overly inquisitive or likes to pry. But where does it come from and was there a historical nosey parker?

In etymological terms it is a fairly modern phrase, first appearing in a story published in the Belgravia: A London Magazine in May 1890 entitled Eastward Ho! by E Hesse-Kaye. The narrator, who hails from the West End of London makes an intrepid expedition into the Badlands of the east, notably Shoreditch and Hoxton. Part of the article is devoted to recording the scraps of conversation he overhears. In one of the exchanges he hears, “lookey ‘ere, Mr Poll Pry, you’re a askin’ too many questions for me, there’s too much of Mr Nosey Parker about you”.

That it was well established in the vernacular of London folk seems to be confirmed by one of those court cases that make local newspapers a treasure trove of social insights. In its edition of October 21, 1896 the Daily News reported a case which had troubled the beak at Southwark police court involving a certain Elizabeth Waddell, described as “a determined-looking woman” who was accused of smashing up a barrow load of toys. In her defence, Waddell is reported as saying, “if the complainant had not been such a Nosey Parker, she would have escaped the row”.

Not unsurprisingly, when we look at the development of the meaning of nosey, we find that it was used at least from the seventeenth century to describe someone with a large nose. Thomas Shelton undertook the enormous task of translating Cervantes’ Don Quixote into English, a feat he achieved in 1620. In one passage, he wrote “the story leaves them, to tell who was the Knight of the Glasses and his nosier Squire”. Although not clear in excerpt form, the context shows that the adjective was used to describe a physical attribute of the squire, not where he stuck it.

It was not until the early nineteenth century that the word began to be used in a more figurative sense, to suggest that the nose was used to pry into matters not necessarily concerning the bearer of the snout. This transition in meaning can be seen in Robert Montgomery’s satire of 1828, The Age Reviewed, in which he writes, “the sycophantic gang Whine through the kingdom with deceitful slang; Till nasty, nosy gabble mouth’d for hire, Puff their mean souls into Presumption’s fire”.

The other component of the phrase had a rather literal meaning, a parker was someone who looked after a park. One of the temptations or occupational hazards of the job may have been inadvertently, or deliberately, observing a person or persons unknown getting up to no good. But this perk of the job is not necessarily the origin of our phrase but it does attract me.

It almost certainly not a reference to the sixteenth century Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker. We have illustrations of him and whilst he has a fine snout, it is not particularly prominent and, in any event, he was not known for being particularly inquisitive. The gap of four centuries, even allowing for it to be in oral use before it made its way into print, tends to argue against him as the phrase’s origin. There was a postcard from 1907 entitled The Adventure of Nosey Parker but this appeared after the first recorded use of the phrase.

As is often the way, there is no definitive answer to our conundrum but I do like the image of an inquisitive park attendant.

What Is The Origin Of (63)?…


A needle in a haystack.

A few days ago I used this phrase and it set me wondering where this unusual image came from. In popular speech it usually attracts a verb such as looking or finding or searching for a needle in a haystack. It is used to mean a very difficult task with the connotation that to find the object of your search is well-nigh impossible. After all, a haystack is big and a needle small.

The first recorded usage of a phrase which gives the sense of the current manifestation appeared in the works of Thomas More, later sainted for his troubles, in 1532 where he states, “To seek out one line in all of St Austin’s works were to go to look a needle in a meadow”. The use of a meadow rather than a haystack suggests that it is even more of a fruitless and forlorn task.

A novel which is considered in many circles to be amongst the greatest and most influential ever written is Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, although I have never been able to get through it. The book was published in two volumes – the first in 1605 and the second in 1615 – and it was soon translated into English. In Book 3 chapter 10 we find the phrase, “as well look for a needle in a bottle of hay

In Act 4 Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bottom says, “Methinks I have a great desire to a bottle of hay” So a bottle was in use in English at that time in the context of hay but what did it mean? Well, it seems, bottle was the diminutive form of the French noun botte which meant bundle as in botte de foin, a bundle of hay. So both Cervantes’ and Shakespeares’ bottle of hay meant a bundle of hay, smaller for sure than Moore’s meadow but still a difficult and perhaps fruitless task.

Although I have been unable to track the definitive first usage of the modern-day version of the phrase, it is easy to imagine that a collection of bundles of hay which is what a haystack is would enhance the sense of the futility of the exercise.

Of course, there is someone who is always prepared to take these things literally. Step forward, performance artist, Sven Sachsalber. In November 2014 he persuaded the director of an art gallery in Paris to instal a haystack and hide a needle in it. The “artist” spent around 30 hours over a couple of days searching frantically for the needle. Eventually he came across it proving that the task can be accomplished but that to do it involves a time-consuming and tedious search. Heaven help you if you suffer from hay fever!

So now we know!

The Rain In Spain

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Good news for bon viveurs

Spanish vineyards, according to the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, have produced 51 million hectolitres of wine in 2013, a 41% increase, making it the world’s largest producer of vino, far outstripping the Italians (47 million) and the French (42 million).

What has caused this phenomenal surge in Spanish wine production is the combination of a wet spring and a warm summer. Spain, which has the largest planted surface of vineyards in the world should be the number one producer but inherent inefficiencies in their industry had impacted production in previous years,. But in 2013 it seems it has all come together – optimal weather conditions coupled with the growers now benefitting from their investment in planting and irrigation systems.

The region of Castilla-La Mancha, perhaps most readily associated in the minds of us Brits with the madcap adventures of Cervantes’ comic creation, Don Quixote, has contributed to over half of Spain’s bumper harvest, outstripping production from regions more familiar to the British oenophile such as Rioja and Cava. La Mancha’s climatic conditions are ideal for grapes, the long hours of sunshine enhancing the longevity of the vines. A decade ago barely a quarter of La Mancha’s wine production was exported, today La Mancha’s grower co-operative of 682 producers now export around 86% of their output goes abroad.

It seems this over-production of wine is ultimately going to work in the favour of the consumer, having a downward effect on prices. The prospect of the availability of better quality wines at lower prices has my lips smacking in anticipation. Whether it is a good thing for the industry as a whole is another question. If financial returns drop, more and more growers may be encouraged to abandon the grape and grow more lucrative produce.

I’m not sure I’m overly worried about that as it seems to me that there is some healthy yin and yang at work here. A few weeks ago the Burgundians were bewailing the effect that the cicadelle was having on their vineyards. Now the Spaniards are awash with plonk. The key for the consumer is not to  be too fixed in your ways – only drinking French or Chilean or whatever. You need to adopt a more global perspective and seek out the best deal whatever the country of production. After all, a hangover is a hangover whatever the contributor cost or wherever it came from.