WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Back Biter

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Back Biter

In church we call them “parking lot committee members.” In social media we call them “tea spillers.” If you’re at work, people ask for the “scuttlebutt” or “dish.”

No matter the label, someone who gossips, especially with the intent to hurt or defame, is an untrustworthy, chin-wagging scandalmonger that you’d better not turn your back on.

Back Biter

One who slanders another behind his back, i.e. in his absence. His bosom friends are become his back biters, said of a lousy man.

Of course I must consult the artistic authority to illustrate my posts, James Gillray. Let’s find some Back Biters.

The Feast of Reason, & the Flow of Soul, i.e. The Wits of the Age Setting the Table in a Roar, by James Gillray, 4 February 1797, Trustees of the British Museum.

Gillray’s The Feast of Reason… presented five significant Whigs of the time: (from left to right) George Hanger, drinking buddy of the Prince of Wales; Charles James Fox, opposition leader (with back to the viewer); Richard Brinsley Sheridan, playwright and professional debtor; Michael Angelo Taylor, MP, and; John Courtenay, frequent fluent speaker of sarcasm in Parliament. The title of the print represented Gillray’s feelings on his subject: the first half came from Alexander Pope’s Imitations of Horace, II, while the second half came from Hamlet. The artist used these classic works to illustrate that the past was rich and full of wit and reason while the present day was full of feeble satire and weak constitutions.

Farmer Giles & His Wife Showing Off Their Daughter Betty to Their Neighbours on Her Return from School, by James Gillray, 1 January 1809, Trustees of the British Museum.

Farmer Giles and his wife were proud of their returned daughter…perhaps blindingly proud. From the expressions on the faces of the younger sister, dog, and servant, their eldest daughter’s skills on the pianoforte were not quite the thing. Gillray’s talent for drawing and satire were magnificently displayed in the writing of the sampler on the wall, “”Evil communications corrupt good manners,” which of course contrasted deliciously with the back-biting gossip sharing her juicy observations behind her fan.

Sophia, Honour, & the Chambermaid, by James Gillray, 1 August 1780, Trustees of the British Museum.

Here Gillray illustrated Tom Jones, specifically chapter five from Book X. Meeting upstairs outside the rooms at the Inn at Upton were the heroine of the novel, Sophia Western; her maid, Honour Blackmore, and; Susan, the chambermaid. The chambermaid related the gossip she heard below stairs from Partridge, the companion to Tom Jones, who was coincidentally staying at the same Inn. Unfortunately, her gossip – as gossip is wont to be – was no more than half-correct and entirely misleading.

He told us Madam (‘tho to be sure it’s all a Lye)
that your Ladyship was Dying for Love of the Young Squire,
and that he was going to the Wars, to get rid of you.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Grumbletonian

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Grumbletonian

This week’s word is sponsored by the letter “G,” as in “Get Off My Lawn.” We’ve all seen that cranky person before. We’ve probably been that person before.

“Miss, I have a monstrous crow to pluck with you!!” by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, 1794, National Portrait Gallery UK.


A discontented person; one who is always railing at the times or ministry.

“This is a sorry sight!” – Macbeth – scene, a lodging in Bond Street by James Gillray, published circa 1786, National Portrait Gallery UK.

From the Yale University Library abstract:

A haggard-looking man is seated in profile to the left in an armchair beside a small table on which are two candles (which light the room), a medicine phial, &c, and his breeches. He wears shirt, night-cap, ungartered stockings, and slippers. He regards his hands with an expression of intense melancholy. The room and its contents show that he is a fashionable rake struck down by disease. A fire burns in the grate; on the chimney-piece (left) is a clock surmounted by a figure of Time as a winged skeleton with a scythe. Above is a picture, the right part alone visible; it is a free rendering of pl. iii of Hogarth’s ‘Rake’s Progress’ (BMSat 2188) showing the ballad-singer bawling the ‘Black Joke’. The frame of another picture is inscribed ‘Macies et nova febrium’: Pandora kneels holding open a box inscribed ‘Pandora’ into which Mercury (cf. BMSat 7592) drops a black spot. Above this is a tailless bird in a cage. A sash-window with a festooned curtain is partly shuttered. On the wall (right) is a large hat, a sword-belt, scabbard, and broken sword, and a pair of pistols. Below is a close-stool; torn papers lie on the floor, with a torn book: ‘Fashionable Cypriad’. In the foreground is a dog. The floor is carpeted. Beneath the table is engraved:

‘”Non vanae redeat Sanguis imagini,
“Quant virgd semel horridd
“Nigro compulerit Mercurius gregi.”‘  ? c. 1786