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…..
With the moving of server last week I got a bit behind on these, but I’ve caught up now and today is day 72 of this. This has lasted for considerably longer than I had anticipated.
I had heard of this phrase in relation to PT Barnum, when he agreed to buy a cherry coloured cat for his circus and realised he had been fooled when he was presented with a black cat and the seller told him “you can get black cherries as well as red”. But, this dictionary pre-dates Barnum, and their definition is nearly identical, which is “a black cat, there being black cherries as well as red”.
The phrase has also been used to describe a confidence trick or scam and there was a report in a newspaper in the 1830s fondly telling the story of how a man in Scarborough enjoyed fooling the gentry who came to the town with the same trick. This then became a common jape in the late nineteenth century, but it’s perhaps through Barnum that this lives on.