WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Elbow Grease

One of the decidedly less glamorous aspects of the Regency period is the hard labor of just about everyone else save the aristocracy. Hours were long, wages were low, and productivity expectations were high. Change was coming – the incessant wars, industrialization, and clamor of the people were seeing to that. But as we in America take a day off from our jobs this Labor Day, I thought a few portraits of the working class were in order. Idealized they are to be sure, but artists’ subjects were not all beautiful ladies and majestic beasts. Some were beguiling servants, their expressions hinting at the stories they could tell.

Apple Dumplings, George Dunlop Leslie (c) Hartlepool Museums and Heritage Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation.

Apple Dumplings, George Dunlop Leslie
(c) Hartlepool Museums and Heritage Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation.

Elbow Grease (noun)

Labor, hard rubbing. 1670s. In a jocular sense, elbow grease is “the best substance for polishing furniture.”

Elbow grease will make a table shine.

Interestingly, this slang term is still in use today, and has gone worldwide. My Marine father drilled the concept into us every time he declared a dreaded “field day” – an early wake up call on a Saturday morning to dress in our grubbies and get ready to scrub the entire house from ceiling to baseboard. We were called on to “use some elbow grease” as we cleaned.

 

The Chocolate Girl, 1784, Jean-Etienne Liotard, from Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

The Chocolate Girl, 1784, Jean-Etienne Liotard, from Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

Her First Place, George Dunlop Leslie, Private Collection

Her First Place, George Dunlop Leslie, Private Collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All definitions and/or examples taken from Online Etymological DictionaryCant: A Gentleman’s Guide, and/or 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Advertisements