Here are two men that I just recently learned about from Child 2:
On the left is Ambrose Burnside. Burnside was a Civil War officer with a bit of a checkered career: at one point being conspired against (according to Wikipedia anyway) by the man on the right, Joseph Hooker.
But that’s not what is of interest here, nor was it particularly fascinating to my current student of Civil War history, Child 2. No, what he wanted to share with me is that sideburns are known as sideburns because of Ambrose Burnside’s fancy whiskers, and that the word hooker, meaning a prostitute, came into the language because of Joseph Hooker’s fancy for the company of ladies of the night. Always good to talk about prostitution with your fourteen year-old son, no?
But beyond that, was he right?
Hmm. Well, in the case of Hooker, maybe not. The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary cites ‘hooker’ as first making its appearance in 1845. Although Joseph Hooker was born in 1814, he wasn’t really famous until the Civil War started in 1861. But while I was looking this up I could not help but look over the vast number of words for a prostitute listed in the dictionary.
Here are a few side notes:
The first entries (not quite in this pic) are from Old English, confirming prostitution’s claim to be the oldest profession. Here are a couple to challenge pronunciation skills:
And here are a couple that stand out from the crowd:
Winchester goose (in use 1606-1778)
marmalade-madam (in use 1674-1717)
Twopenny upright (in use 1958-1978)
I could go on…
But instead, let’s switch to whiskers. Ambrose Burnside’s facial hair definitely brought the term side-burn into both American and English languages. My big fat dictionary has a section on ‘sidewings’ which it says was first used in 1811:
Side-burns, we see, crops up in the language 1887, amidst a clear up-tick in the need for words to describe men’s facial hair. Obviously I had to google Dundreary whiskers and Piccadilly weepers and am so very happy to be able to add a couple of photographs here of Edward Askew Sothern:
Sothern, an English actor, played Lord Dundreary in a play, The American Cousin. I can’t imagine a better example of an English eccentric and it seems both terms come back to this very fetching looking gent.
As a further interesting bit of trivia, The American Cousin was the play that Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre in 1865. Although not with Sothern in the Lord Dundreary role.