Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day Seventeen

The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the Coronavirus crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored…..

Bartholomew Baby

Apparently, and going by the dictionary’s definition, this is “a person dressed up in a tawdry manner, like the dolls or babies sold at Bartholomew fair”. As a side issue, I’m still retelling people (I heard this on a guided walk, although I can’t remember which one) the origins of the word tawdry, which comes from St Audrey’s lace, which was often sold as a cheap copy and became unfashionable.

Anyway, I hadn’t heard of Bartholomew Fair, but this was a major annual event which was held in London from 1133 until 1855, with the authorities finding it had got debauched by inappropriate people and their behaviour, so they scrapped it. The phrase Bartholomew Baby is still in use occasionally today as a description of small wooden dolls, but the reference to people being dressed in a tawdry manner seems to have been lost.