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 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 the United States take a day off from our jobs this Labor Day (those who are blessed to be able to work during this viral pandemic, that is), I thought a few portraits of the Regency working class were in order. Idealized they are to be sure, but artists’ subjects were not all beautiful ladies and majestic beasts. Some were servants, their expressions hinting at the stories they could tell.

Apple Dumplings by George Dunlop Leslie, 1880, Hartlepool Museums and Heritge Service.

Elbow Grease

Labour. Elbow grease will make an oak table shine.

Her First Place by George Dunlop Leslie, late 19th century, Christopher Wood Gallery.

Interestingly, this slang term is still in use today, and has achieved near-universal usage and meaning. 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 clean the entire house, garage, and yard. Sometimes even the cars.

Ah… the good ol’ days.

We were called on to use our “elbow grease” as we suffered cleaned.

La Récureuse (The Scrubber) by André Bouys, 1737, Musée des Arts Décoratifs.


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